Population Policies

The US has a population of over 332,000,000, which is a lot of people! But have you ever thought about what happens to a population when it is considered too high or too low? This is when population policies come in. Keep reading this explanation to gain an understanding of what population policies are, the different types of population policies and some examples and effects of population policies across the globe. 

Population Policies Population Policies

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Table of contents

    Population Policies Definition

    A major aspect of a country is its population size. Overpopulation can lead to over-consumption and increased pressures on resources and services such as health care and education. On the other hand, a population can also become underpopulated, which is often unsustainable and can lead to economic loss due to the fact there are fewer adults of working age in the population.

    Therefore, many governments use population policies as a way to combat overpopulation and underpopulation. But what are population policies?

    Population policies, implemented by governments, are a series of actions that are introduced to a country to adjust the county’s population size. This may be encouraging the population size to increase or attempting to limit the population size.

    Characteristics of Population Policies

    A government will examine its past and present population demographics in order to predict future population demographic trends/changes. This aids in determining the optimum population size for the resources a country has. This will lead to the most suitable population policies being chosen for the country. Different population policies have different components. Therefore, three main elements are considered when deciding on a population policy, these are fertility, mortality, and migration.


    Fertility is one of the main elements used in population policies. For example, increasing population size by encouraging births or limiting population size by discouraging births. This is mostly done through propaganda and incentives.

    Propaganda is the promotion of information that may be biased, in order to influence a particular viewpoint.

    Governments may resort to propaganda to attempt to control population sizes. Propaganda may include advertisements suggesting larger or smaller families, depending on the type of population policy.

    Population Policies, China one child policy, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Propaganda promoting the one-child policy in China

    Incentives involve using economics to increase fertility rates, including governments encouraging births by offering to pay hospital bills for birth and child day care, paid maternity leave, or even higher taxes for couples without children. Whereas incentives for lower fertility rates might include taxes on larger families, education on family planning and the provision of contraceptives and legalized abortion.

    There is a difference between the fertility rate and birth rate, although both are used as measures of population demographics. The Fertility Rate or Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is the average number of children that women give birth to during their child-bearing age, which is often considered 15-50 years of age. The birth rate is the number of births that take place per 1,000 people over a selected time.


    Another element of population policy is mortality. When a population is considered too low, governments aim to reduce mortality rates, to keep the population numbers high for as long as possible. This is done by improving national health care, which also increases the chance of survival for children under 5 years of age. This is called the Infant Mortality Rate (IMR), and helps to increase the population when mortality rates are high.


    A further element of population policies is migration, which is used to regulate populations. This is done through incentives for inward migration (which can be internal or external), or even limiting migration through border control.

    Motivations for migration can include tax incentives, subsidies, investments, and work permits for migrants.

    Objectives of Population Policies

    Objectives vary for different population sizes, depending on the outcome the policy is attempting to achieve. The main objectives of a population policy are to increase population size or decrease population size.

    Increasing a Population Size

    A country with an aging population will have many elderly members in the population, and therefore, fewer people that are of suitable working age. This is concerning for a government, as countries require working adults to help contribute to the economy. Therefore, in an attempt to resolve this issue, a population policy that aims to increase the population will be implemented. An example of an aging population will be discussed later.

    Decreasing a Population Size

    On the other hand, a country that already has a high population will place increasing pressure on services and resources. As a consequence, it will likely see the introduction of a population policy that attempts to reduce the growing population size.

    Types of Population Policies

    There are three main types of population policies; these are pro-natalist, anti-natalist and immigration policies.


    In countries with an aging population or a small population size, pro-natalist policies aim to increase the population size by increasing the fertility rate.


    In contrast, in countries where the population size is considered to be too large, anti-natalist policies are implemented in an attempt to reduce population size.


    The third major type of population policy is immigration. Immigration policies are used to control the number of immigrants who enter or leave a country. The policies can encourage an influx of immigrants, encourage emigration, or they can limit the number of immigrants entering the country.

    Emigration is the outward movement of residents from their home country to a new country, where they will live permanently. Someone who emigrates from their home country becomes an immigrant to their host country.

    Population Policy Examples

    Many countries have introduced pro-natalist, anti-natalist and immigration policies over the years. Remember, pro-natalist policies aim to increase population size, and anti-natalist policies aim to decrease population size.


    In 1939, France applied a pro-natalist population policy called Code de la Famille. The country was suffering from an aging population, with fewer people of suitable working age. Therefore, this policy aimed at increasing the country’s population size and gaining more laborers. The incentives of this policy include:

    • Economic incentives offered to mothers who stayed at home with their children
    • Banning of contraceptives (which were introduced again in 1967 to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases)
    • Paid maternity leave
    • Free holidays for families with children


    Between 1980 and 2016 China introduced an anti-natalist, one-child policy. The policy limited families to one child each through laws, to tackle the country’s exponential population growth, which was creating pressure on the economic progress of the country.

    To prevent families from having more than one child, various enforcements were put in place. These included:

    • Fines to those who did not comply
    • Financial incentives to those who followed the policy
    • Contraceptives
    • Forced sterilizations
    • Forced abortions

    Population Policies, China population control, StudySmarterFig. 2 - A poster in China showing a happy family with one child


    Singapore has introduced both pro-natalist and anti-natalist policies.

    In the 1960s and 1970s, the county had an anti-natalist policy, due to having a high fertility rate and increasing population. Contraceptives were offered at lowered prices, and small families were promoted through advertisements, as well as financial incentives and education on family planning.

    In 1987, the country introduced a pro-natalist policy. This policy offered financial benefits to having more children and encouragement via propaganda. This was implemented to combat the low population that occurred due to the earlier anti-natalist policy.


    Sweden currently has an open-door immigration policy. This policy aims to benefit the country economically, as immigrants will contribute to the country’s economy through taxes and labor. Additionally, the country has a low birth rate.

    Population Policies, Sweden's annual immigration and emigration from 2000 - 2017, StudySmarterSweden's Annual Immigration and Emigration from 2000 - 2017

    Sweden is in the European Union (EU). This means that there is free movement within the EU for EU residents. The number of immigrants in Sweden is now at around two million.

    Effects of Population Policies

    There are different consequences for each kind of population policy. These can impact a country’s economy, culture, and politics. There are also long-term and short-term effects of population policies. Let's take a look:

    Effects of France's Pro-Natalist Policy

    The population in France began to see an increase and is still rising in the present day due to increasing fertility rates. This highlights the success of the policy. However, the policy has cost the country billions of Euros due to advertisements and incentives used in the policy. This is a long-term effect of the policy on the country’s economy.

    Effects of China's Anti-Natalist Policy

    The effects of China’s one-child population show that the policy did work, but not without unexpected consequences.

    China’s one-child policy was dropped in 2016 because the fertility rate of the country significantly decreased. Consequently, the country gained concerns that the nation was becoming a fast-aging population, with not enough young people able to work and care for the aging population, which will impact the country’s economy.

    As of 2021, families could have three children. Despite this, some families still only have one child per family as it has become engrained in Chinese culture due to the one-child policy. This worries the government as they are trying to encourage more births to care for the aging population the country faces.

    Despite the policy, some families had more than one child. In families that had a second child, this child was often not legally documented, and this led to a lack of education, health care and work for the second child.

    In addition to this, the policy impacted the gender balance of the country, causing the sex ratio to become very skewed. This is because many Chinese families favored male babies since males are thought to be the main workers of families and therefore the ones who were capable of earning a living, especially in rural regions. This led to many female babies being orphaned, abandoned or even killed since the families did not want them. Although, in some cases, two children were allowed in one family if the firstborn child was female, again, particularly in rural regions.

    After the policy ended, there became a high male-to-female ratio in China’s population. This meant there were fewer women available to marry and as a consequence transnational human trafficking began occurring. This trafficking was done to find wives that could produce a child for the many spare males in the population.

    The table below sorts these societal impacts into long-term and short-term effects.

    Long-Term Effects of China’s One Child PolicyShort-Term Effects of China's One Child Policy

    There are fewer young people to look after the aging population.

    Undocumented births.

    Families still hesitate to have more than one child (because the Government previously enforced the viewpoint that one child is preferable to the culture).

    Fewer children born.

    The high male-to-female ratio in the population.

    No increase in female fertility.

    Increasing transnational human trafficking due to the Chinese gender imbalance.

    Effects of Singapore's Population Policies

    The impacts of Singapore’s population policies can be seen clearly. This is because a pro-natalist policy was initiated, following an anti-natalist policy, since the population had become so low. Fertility and birth rates dropped, and this also meant the economy suffered as there were fewer working people.

    Effects of Sweden's Immigration Policy

    There are many immigrants in Sweden due to their immigration policy. However, this has led to political and societal issues. There has been an increase in violent riots and growing unemployment for immigrants, creating long-term effects on the country’s economy and politics.

    Don’t forget to include examples to back up your information (where needed) in your exam!

    Population Policies - Key takeaways

    • A population policy is determined by the government of a country and aims to influence the country’s population by either increasing or decreasing it.
    • The two main objectives of a population policy are to increase population size or to decrease population size.
    • Fertility, mortality, and migration are the three main elements of population policies.
    • Pro-natalist policies, such as France's Code de la Famille, encourage the population to increase in size.
    • Anti-natalist policies, such as China's one-child policy, aim to lower the population size.
    • Immigration policies, such as Sweden's attempt to adjust the country’s population size through immigration.


    1. Fig 1: Propaganda promoting low birth rates (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:One-child_policy_in_China.jpg), by kafka4prez (https://www.flickr.com/people/75514127@N00), licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en).
    2. Fig 2: A painting in China showing a happy family with one child, (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:China_1982_happy_family_with_one_child.jpg), By Robert Schediwy (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Robert_Schediwy), licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en).
    Frequently Asked Questions about Population Policies

    What are the three types of population policies?

    Pro-natalist, anti-natalist and migration polices are the three types of population policies.

    What are the aims and objectives of population policy?

    The aims and objectives of a population policy are to alter the population size through a set of regulations. 

    What are the two elements of population policy?

    Fertility and mortality are two elements of population policy.

    What are examples of population policies?

    Examples of population policies include China's anti-natalist one-child policy, France's pro-natalist population policy, Singapore's pro-natalist and anti-natalist population policies and Sweden's immigration policy.

    Which countries have population policies?

    China, Japan and Egypt have population policies

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What are the three main types of population policies?

    What year did China's one child policy end?

    Which of the incentives were used in China's one-child policy?


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