Brow Beat

John Oliver Examines the Lingering Consequences of China’s One-Child Policy

China’s one-child policy officially ended in 2016, but the effects will linger for decades to come, explained John Oliver on Last Week Tonight. The show’s main segment, pegged to the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China’s founding, was an examination of the long-term effects of the policy on the country’s population, including, to Oliver’s delight, the rise of chubby “meatball” children who didn’t have to compete with siblings for resources.


The policy has also created a drastic gender imbalance as parents limited to one child favored sons over daughters, leading to a boom in pickup artistry and the sex doll industry fueled by lonely single men. “For the record, buying a life-size sex doll does not stop you from being alone,” said Oliver. “In fact, it makes you somehow more alone than you were when you were totally alone. If one is the loneliest number, one and a sex doll is the even loneliest-er number.”

The sillier aspects aside, this was at times an unusually somber segment, even for Last Week Tonight, with Oliver addressing the horrors of forced abortion, human trafficking, and parents still forced to make difficult choices under the country’s new two-child policy. But Oliver’s job is to bring the jokes to even the most depressing of subjects, and he delivered. On China’s aging population: “If you’ve seen Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, you know the pressure of having four grandparents all relying on you.”