China’s one-child policy has created a generation which is less trusting, more risk-averse and perhaps less likely to become entrepreneurs, according to new Australian research.
Published in the journal Science, the study of more than 400 Beijing residents who were born around the time the controversial population policy was first introduced could have implications for China’s economy, researchers say.
“We found that individuals who grew up as single children as a result of China’s one-child policy are significantly less trusting, less trustworthy, more risk-averse, less competitive, more pessimistic, and less conscientious,” said University of Melbourne researcher Nisvan Erkal.
China introduced the policy in 1979 to combat population growth and family planning officials in Beijing have defended it in the past, claiming China’s population — currently 1.3 billion — would have hit 1.7 billion without it.
But the new study, “Little Emperors: Behavioral Impacts of China’s One-Child Policy”, based on research by Erkal, Monash University and Australian National University academics, found that single children were a distinct group.
The scholars used a series of “economic games” — in which the subjects exchanged or invested small amounts of money, or made other economic decisions — to measure their levels of trust, risk-taking and competitiveness.
They compared those who grew up as the sole child because of the policy with those who had siblings.
“We did analyse other factors that might have explained this shift, including the participants’ age, marital status and growing exposure to capitalism,” Erkal, an associate professor, said.
“But we found that being born before or after the one-child policy best explains our observations.”
Fellow researcher Lisa Cameron from Monash said the effect could have economic implications.
“Our data shows that people born under the one-child policy were less likely to be in more risky occupations like self-employment,” she said.
“Thus there may be implications for China in terms of a decline in entrepreneurial ability.”