Many are cheering China's recent announcement that it will end its policy of restricting couples to one child and will now permit couples to have two children.
The impact of this policy shift has the potential of transforming Chinese society in many ways.
The previous policy may have been a contributing factor in the significant number of abortions reported across China. In some cases, these abortions may have been forced. Widespread child abandonment may have also been a response to this policy.
Demographers and economists are also taking note of this change in policy. The previous policy has contributed to the decline in the number of working-aged people. This decline coupled with the growing number of older people has created a large, and unsustainable, dependency ratio of older people being supported by younger people.
Hence, health officials, human rights organizations, and policy makers have welcomed this new policy and are optimistic about its impact on a myriad of nationwide outcomes.
In addition to the new policy's impact on health, child welfare, and the broader economy, this new shift will offer the Chinese people a life-long gift that will transform their families and society in profound ways. Children born any time after the policy was implemented in 1980 were lacking an irreplaceable component of healthy childhood socialization: siblings.
As a steady, international body of research is showing, growing up with siblings offers children a matchless context in which they learn about relationships, social engagement, sharing, ownership, identity, conflict resolution, and problem solving.
The first microcosm of a complementary relationship exists with a sibling. Siblings constantly competing for attention, resources, and space offer each other a great milieu to begin learning about the world. During the course of the day, children find themselves in countless basic social situations with their siblings that can offer them a training ground for working on social and emotional development. For example, a fight about a toy, which to parents may seem like an annoyance, is actually a training ground for children to learn about property ownership, respect, self-control, and conflict resolution.
What happens in the sibling relationship is the catalyst for all future social engagements. When children talk, yell, fight, interact, share, and play with their sibling they are developing vital social understanding. These early competencies learned from growing up with a sibling will have lifelong consequences. Studies have suggested that sibling closeness in childhood is linked with social-emotional understanding, cognitive abilities, and psychological adjustment. During adolescence, sibling closeness contributes to healthy identity formation and minimization of teen problems. In adulthood, siblings may offer shared responsibility/negotiation over aging parent care, and sibling warmth is linked with well-being and successful aging. Bringing all these findings together makes it quite obvious that siblings offer a fundamental and unrepeatable life provision.
Considering the important life-long lessons we learn from our siblings about relationships, social engagement, sharing, ownership, identity, conflict resolution, and problem solving I wonder how growing up with a sibling will impact the broader Chinese society. How will growing up with a sibling impact Chinese public and international policy in the future?
Will learning how to share early in life during sibling interactions impact the way future generations of Chinese view the conflict over the South China Sea?
Will learning about ownership early in life during sibling fights impact the way future generations of Chinese view the tensions over Taiwan?
Will learning about property rights early in life during sibling battles impact the way future generations of Chinese view cyber-hacking?
Will learning about empathy, compassion, and perspective taking early in life during sibling engagements impact the way future generations of Chinese approach human rights in their country?
Will learning about autonomy and independence early in life during sibling arguments impact the way future generations of Chinese view democratization?
As a social scientist I eagerly await the outcome of this fascinating experiment.