10 Things That Would Happen if Every Couple Had Just One Child


Our planet’s population is exploding. By 2050, it’s estimated that there will be 9 billion of us humans living on Earth. That’s 9 billion mouths to feed from our finite resources, and 9 billion who will expect jobs, opportunities, and medicine. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how this could blow up in our faces.

As a result, plenty of people are starting to wonder how we might slow down our population growth. One idea occasionally floated is to adopt a one child policy, like China used to have. While the likelihood of such a proposal ever becoming mainstream is extremely remote, we thought we’d dig into it anyway, and figure out what a strict, global one child policy would do to the world. The answer? Unleash insanity.

10. There’d be a Massive Gender Imbalance

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It’s an unfortunate fact that, in many, many countries, women are considered second class citizens. They can’t work, can’t drive, have no say in who they marry, suffer economic setbacks, or just generally have to put up with guys acting like douches. Most importantly, they are considered less valuable than men for jobs like agriculture and industry. Create a world where every couple is only allowed one child, and girl babies would find themselves disappearing at a horrifying rate.

We know this, because it’s exactly what happened in China. In the Middle Kingdom, women are expected to marry and then go care for their husband’s parents. They’re not expected to make money and support their families. So poor, rural Chinese couples started aborting, killing, or abandoning baby girls. The eventual result was a population with 30 million more men than women, and areas so devoid of girls they resemble a dystopian sausage party.

Of course, Chinese society is unique. Some countries, likely in the West, might turn out to value girls more than boys. But, globally? We hate to say it, but it’s baby girls who’ll get the short end of the stick, leaving us with way too many dudes for our planet to sustain. While we’re on the subject…

9. Kidnapping and Human Trafficking Would Rise

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Remember when you were 14 and insecure and thought no girl would ever want to have sex with you? In a world with a gigantic gender imbalance, that’s how millions and millions of grown men would feel all their lives. Unfortunately, young, insecure, angry men aren’t known for their restraint. Faced with a dearth of opportunities for love, they may well embark on a crusade of raping and kidnapping.

Before you descend on the comments to accuse us of having an anti-man agenda or whatever, note that we’re drawing this conclusion from research into China’s one child policy. In 2016, CNN revealed a massive, terrifying network of human traffickers who snatch poor girls from Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos and sold them into marriage with sex-starved Chinese men. The report concluded this was a direct result of the one child policy.

This isn’t a problem unique to China. Unloved young men all over the world have a tendency to blame their ill-fortune with girls on the girls themselves. Look at Isla Vista shooter Elliot Rodger. Combine that with a human mentality that craves sex, and it’s easy to see how trafficking would skyrocket across a gender-imbalanced globe.

8. A Massive Increase in Abortions

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If you’re someone who thinks abortion is a bad thing, then you’re not gonna like this next one. A global one child policy would lead to an unprecedented number of abortions being performed across the planet. As in China, almost all of these abortions would likely target baby girls.

Since ultrasound scans became cheap and easily accessible, parents in places like China, India, and Saudi Arabia have aborted enough baby girls to populate a vast country. In 1990, the Indian economist, Amartya Sen, estimated the number at 100 million worldwide. And that’s without the impetus of a one child policy outside China. Apply it globally and tens of millions of baby girls would be terminated every single year.

Even in countries where boys aren’t favored over girls, the number of abortions would inevitably rise. Sick children, disabled children… all would likely be aborted in this not-so-brave new world. We haven’t even gotten to forced abortions yet. If this policy were truly global, and really implemented, governments would have to ensure no couple had a second child. That would mean aborting any children accidentally conceived. If the religious think it’s bad now, a one child world would see abortion scale heights even the most-Leftest liberal would shudder to contemplate.

7. Empowering Women

After three entries demonstrating how unbelievably bad this would be for women, here’s a silver lining for the sisterhood. In China’s richer urban centers, the one child policy was far from a disaster for girls. In fact, it may have had the opposite effect. Educated Chinese women today are more empowered than at any point in history.

The reasons for this are brutally simple. With far fewer women around, men have to compete extra hard for a mate. This means women can kick back in the knowledge that they can get married at pretty much any point in life, and have their pick of the bunch while they’re at it. In China, this has translated to a generation of educated women who are putting their careers and independence first, and leaving off settling down until they’re much older. For middle class women in developing countries, a massive surplus of men could paradoxically give them greater freedom than their moms and grandmas could ever have dreamed of.

Again, we should stress this upside will only benefit comparatively richer and better-educated women living in urban areas. But it’s still not something to be scoffed at.

6. Creating a Generation of Little Emperors

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We all know someone who likes to go on about how entitled today’s kids can be, and what special snowflakes they are. Oh boy, if that guy could only see the future generation a one child policy would bring. There’s research from China that indicates a generation born without siblings can wind up being so snowflake-y they make Millennials look like a burning ball of ambitious, white hot fire.

The Chinese know them as ‘little emperors’. The idea is that all of them suffer only child syndrome. Their parents have doted on them, given them everything they ever wanted, and now they’re ill-equipped to deal with life in the real world. While the perception is exaggerated, there’s a snippet of truth behind it all. A study by Australian economists, reported by NPR, showed that the ‘little emperor’ generation was more risk-averse, less optimistic, and less entrepreneurial than preceding generations. In a world that relies on dynamic ideas and innovation to spur its economy onwards, that’s a massive problem.

It’s impossible to calculate what effects a generation like this would have on the planet. But if you believe entitled Millennials are dragging the country down, then a global generation of little emperors is probably gonna feel like the apocalypse.

5. A Massive Increase in Government Bureaucracy

Let’s say the world took this one child policy very seriously. That would mean rewriting lots of laws, and likely amending the American Constitution, to make it workable. But it’s one thing declaring something law. It’s another enforcing it. Just ask China. At the height of their one child policy, the state was forced to employ half a million people full time, and 85 million half time to ensure no one broke the one child limit.

That’s the equivalent of the entire populations of France and Taiwan combined, just monitoring birth rates. It gets crazier. In a typical Chinese village of 500, the state was forced to employ 16 staff purely to monitor local couples. In other words, monitoring this policy in a single country required expanding the state’s role massively.

For anyone living in a relatively small-state country, the shock would be jarring in the extreme. Even for those used to living in statist countries, the sheer volume of bureaucracy required would be staggering. For example, many in the EU (population 508 million, slightly less than half that of China) like to complain about the crazy number of bureaucrats employed by Brussels. That number currently sits at around 46,000, less than 0.1% of the number of bureaucrats China required to police its one child policy.

4. Brutal Punishments

While we’re on the subject of enforcement, do you have any idea how hard it is to convince a couple to stop after just one child? Really, really hard. The sort of punishments the state would have to be prepared to dole out to those who broke the limit would be brutal in the extreme.

Just the most basic laws required to make the policy work would likely classify as cruel and unusual punishment. In China, women who became pregnant a second time were made to undergo forced abortions. While this is brutal, there would be few practical alternatives. On top of that, legislators would feel the need to send out a harsh message. When it wanted to put people off raising families, Beijing brought in compulsory sterilization for those who violated the one child policy. They hit other families with massive fines. Property was confiscated. And even then, some couples still risked popping out an extra baby.

If all of this sounds barbaric, that’s because it is. But other governments wouldn’t be able to do much better if they were serious about enforcement. The worst regimes would probably bring in truly horrific punishments like torture and execution for violators. Essentially, wanting to become a mother would make you into a wanted criminal.

3. Chaos in the Social System

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Have you ever heard of the 4-2-1 problem? It’s something China has been struggling to cope with for a while now. Basically, a state provides for its elderly by ensuring there are more workers than those out of work. Either the workers themselves take care of their elderly relatives, as was traditionally the case in China, or their taxes go towards pensions and housing for the elderly. It’s how the entire 20th century social system works.

In a one child world, though, things get trickier. This is where the problem comes in. Instead of having a working family to provide for an elderly grandparent, China is increasingly looking at a future where one worker is expected to provide for two parents and four grandparents (hence 4-2-1). It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this poses a massive problem.

As a result, there’s a real danger that living standards will crash for the workers of the future. In Western societies, this would manifest with workers having to work longer hours and more years to keep the elderly population afloat. Pensioners, in turn, would see their pensions shrink and life become harder.

2. A More Sustainable World

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So, a one child policy can cause economic and social chaos. But can it also be a good thing? Some research suggests it could be. In 2014, a team of researchers showed that a moderately low birth rate can lead to an economic boom for wealthier countries.

Unfortunately, a strict one child policy chucks out the ‘moderately’ part of that sentence. Yet there are still advantages. As we mentioned in our opening paragraph, our planet is getting crazy-crowded. We’re at the stage right now where it’s like we’re in the Black Hole of Calcutta. Only, instead of screaming “help, we’re suffocating here!” we’re content to just let the world keep on shoving more and more people into our tiny living space. This is inevitably gonna lead to major societal collapse at some point.

A global one child policy could put the brakes on this, hard. In China alone, one generation of one child laws stopped 300 million extra people from being born. Multiply that by the current population of the world, and we could save ourselves around 2 billion extra mouths to feed.

1. Eventual Extinction

Now it’s time to descend into the delightful depths of reductio ad absurdum for this final entry. Given that we’ve hypothetically constructed a world where every single government has agreed to monitor a strict one child policy, let’s follow it down the road for a few generations. First we’d see global population growth slow dramatically. Then it would level out. Then it would start to contract, slowly at first, but then faster and faster and faster. Flash forward some 33 generations, and we humans would have bred ourselves out of existence.

Think about it. If each couple can only have one child, that’s two people who will grow old and die, leaving only one ‘replacement’ human behind. That kid will then hook up with another only child, and have an single child with her. Then they’ll both die and leave only one replacement. From an initial two couples (four people), we’ve already bred ourselves down to a single replacement. Eventually, the last couple would have one child, who would have no one to mate with, and would die without passing on his or her genes. The human race would be over.

Incredibly, not everyone thinks this is a bad idea. There’s even a group called the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, who believe it’s our duty to stop reproducing and kill our species. If you’re reading this in a Children of Men-style hellscape many years into the future, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

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  1. J in Adelaide on

    Look, we do not need a policy, we need educate masses. We need a voluntarily, understandingly people having 1 child in a family.
    And no we will not extinct. If everything done naturally, without constraints we will keep our population even when it comes to 1-2 billion.

  2. I’m all about rules and regulations. A one child policy will be needed tho if the entire world won’t take the responsibility to have only 2 children max.

  3. Craig in Portland on

    What a load! How about posting how the planet wold recover without so many people to rape and pillage it? Lower energy consumption due to a smaller need for fuel resources. Less animal extinctions as mankind stops imposing itself on natural habitats. A recovery from pollutions effects. Or any other POSITIVE fact that would protect future generations, if we’d only control our hyperactive breeding.