Fertility preferences in China in the twenty-first century

Rui Lu*, Anne Gauthier, Gert Stulp

*Corresponding author for this work

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There is continuing debate on how low China’s fertility has reached and whether China has fallen into the “low fertility trap”. This paper addresses this debate by revisiting the trends in fertility preferences in the past decades in China based on a meta review. Moreover, the analysis contrasts distinct measurements of fertility preferences to capture different aspects of reproductive decision-making. This papers reviews 152 studies resulting in 137 estimates for the mean of preferred number of children, 104 estimates for the proportions of different numbers of children preferred and 66 estimates for the second-child preferences. We found that after the long-time decline of fertility preferences in the last century, the average family size remained at a low level but started to increase slowly since 2001. This upturn was observed for all three types of measurements of fertility preferences: ideal, desired, and planned family size. The results also indicate a strong two-child preference (more than 50% of respondents) in China, although 30% of people prefer one child and only a small fraction indicating an ideal family size for three or more children. Results on people’s preference for a second child were less consistent. We concluded that fertility is unlikely to increase rapidly in China even when the government adopts more relaxed family planning policy. Because the upward trend in fertility preferences was very minimal and the economic constraints will prevent many people to realise their preferences.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Population Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun-2023


  • China
  • Fertility preferences
  • Low fertility trap
  • Meta-analysis

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