The Family Planning Policy was enforced through a financial penalty in the form of the "social child-raising fee", sometimes called a "family planning fine" in the West, which was collected as a fraction of either the annual disposable income of city dwellers or of the annual cash income of peasants, in the year of the child's birth.

The policy allowed many exceptions and ethnic minorities were exempt.

In 2007, 36% of China's population was subject to a strict one-child restriction, with an additional 53% being allowed to have a second child if the first child was a girl.

Previous easings of the one-child policy have spurred fewer births than expected, and many people among China's younger generations see smaller family sizes as ideal." The one-child policy was managed by the National Population and Family Planning Commission under the central government since 1981.

The Ministry of Health of the People's Republic of China and the National Health and Family Planning Commission were made defunct and a new single agency National Health and Family Planning Commission took over national health and family planning policies in 2013. The policy was enforced at the provincial level through fines that were imposed based on the income of the family and other factors.

Chinese citizens returning from abroad were allowed to have a second child.

As of 2007, only 35.9% of the population were subject to a strict one-child limit.

52.9% were permitted to have a second child if their first was a daughter; 9.6% of Chinese couples were permitted two children regardless of their gender; and 1.6%—mainly Tibetans—had no limit at all.

The Danshan, Sichuan Province Nongchang Village people Public Affairs Bulletin Board in September 2005 noted that RMB 25,000 in social compensation fees were owed in 2005.

Beginning in 1970, citizens were encouraged to marry at later ages and have only two children.