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The Limits and Consequences of Population Policy: Evidence from China’s Wan Xi Shao Campaign

Prior to the famous One Child Policy, China’s total fertility rate declined by more than 50% during the 1970s - one of the most rapid sustained fertility declines documented in modern history. Coinciding with this transition was China’s first national population policy, Wan Xi Shao, also known as the Longer, Later Fewer (LLF) campaign. Studying LLF’s contribution to fertility and fertility strategies favoring sons, we find that the campaign i) reduced China’s total fertility rate by 0.88 births per woman (explaining 27% of China’s modern fertility decline), ii) doubled the use of male-biased fertility stopping rules, and iii) promoted postnatal selection (implying 200,000 previously unrecognized missing girls). Considering Chinese population policy to be extreme in global experience, our paper demonstrates the limits of population policy in explaining demographic transitions— and its potential human costs.

NBER Working Paper 25130, 2020 (with with Kim Singer Babiarz, Paul Ma, and Shige Song)