Effects of Birth Control Policies on Women’s Age at First Birth in China

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The end of the “one-child” policy in China has brought the discussion of how much birth control policies have actually affected women’s childbearing behavior back into the spotlight. Some people suggest that birth control policies explain most of the fertility decline in China, but others believe that socioeconomic development has also played a decisive role. To shed light on these questions, instead of analyzing the impacts of policies on the overall level of fertility directly, we explore the effects of different local birth control policies on another aspect of childbearing behavior, timing of first birth. This study yields two significant findings. First, women who followed less strict birth control policies tended to have their first birth earlier than those who followed the strictest one-child policy. Second, concurrent with educational expansion, there was more heterogeneity in fertility intentions and variation in birth control policies among younger, higher-educated cohorts than their older, less-educated counterparts. Together, these imply that the effect of birth control policies was still strong, even for more educated young women. The Chinese fertility rate might see a temporal rise under the newly loosened birth control policy while the trend to low fertility will continue in the medium to long term.