China's ageing population and the "demographic time-bomb"

I found Tania Branigan's Guardian article on China's coming demographic spasm really interesting. China's One Child policy means that there's a giant cohort of imminent retirees and a much smaller group of young adults of working age who'll have to support them. Combine that with the tradition (and law) of filial piety, which puts responsibility for the elderly on their children, increased life-expectancy, and a shame-taboo against retirement homes, and you've got the makings of some very turbulent times ahead.

China's economic miracle has been fuelled by its "demographic dividend": an unusually high proportion of working age citizens. That population bulge is becoming a problem as it ages. In 2000 there were six workers for every over-60. By 2030, there will be barely two.

Other countries are also ageing and have far lower birth rates. But China is the first to face the issue before it has developed – and the shift is two to three times as fast.

"China is unique: she is getting older before she has got rich," said Wang Dewen, of the World Bank's China social protection team.

Tens of millions of workers have migrated to the cities, creating an even worse imbalance in rural areas which already suffer low incomes, poor public services and minimal social security.

Most old people there rely on their own labour and their children. China not only needs to support more older people for longer, but to extend support to new parts of society. World Bank researchers point to promising advances, such as the national rural pension scheme and the expansion of health insurance.

China can help deal with increased costs by raising its retirement age; at present, only about a fifth of urban women are still working at 55. Improving education should also raise productivity. Some experts believe such measures will be enough to wipe out the "demographic debt". Others wonder if China will begin to welcome immigrants.

China faces 'timebomb' of ageing population


  1. When you look at the widespread inhuman conditions that many millions of people live under in China, is there really any question what is going to happen to these old folks? They are not destined for assisted care centers, that’s for sure.

  2. Now also think about the (I think) nearly 20% more man then woman because of the the-one-child-has-to-be-a-man, and you get additional problems.

      1. There already are ethnic groups in China that do this, though the one I’m thinking of may not have marriages at all. Men are expected to help raise their sisters’ children, not their “own”. 

  3. Hopefully this will be the wakeup call that most of the developed world needs regarding care of the elderly.  Countries like the US have been relying on what is essentially a pyramid scheme – assuming that by the time a given generation gets too old to work, they will be far outnumbered by members of the younger generation who can pay/care for them.  This system assumes constant, substantial population growth, and that’s simply not sustainable. 

    China figured out first that growth must be kept in check, and they’re the first to feel the transitional crunch as the last of the “unrestrained” generation gets too old to work.  It will be even worse in other countries if they don’t plan ahead – something the US appears to have no interest in doing.

    1.  The U.S. system doesn’t require population growth, but a shrinking population would be a problem. Until the GOP is willing to actually compromise on health care, and at least admit that single-payer was a _Republican_ idea from the 90s, and not “socialism” or “death panels”, the system will not change.

  4. there’s also a coming real estate bubble. google ‘Ghost cities of China’ and there are some startling news reports that will make the US bubble look like sunday school.

    ie everywhere – overbuilt sprawling malls (mostly empty), condo towers that are only 25% full because it is far too expensive for the average person to afford – while families live in one-rooms with shared communal tap and bathroom and no room for their kids (they are with grandparents and see them once a year). ANd their living space is slated for demolition and more empty towers, because then it looks like there is construction and growth.  

  5. Sorry, I can’t bring myself to read the story, mainly because I am transfixed by the leather-clad skeleton in the photo. What the heck is that?? Anyone have a link to the full-sized photo?

  6. the thought being human euthanasia is not immoral when it is voluntary or a duty and the majority want it or are made to want it.
    living beyond your expiration date is unnatural and unsustainable in a society that does not respect it’s elders for their contribution.
    the dynamic will always become static and be the launching pad for future generations.
    ironically, if the dynamic does not respect the static there will be no respect for them by the new dynamic either.
    surgeon general c. everett koop (’80’s) predicted euthanasia in america one day.
    although he wrote it in born again right to life anti-abortion slippery slope logic, it is a good read nonetheless.
    could the killing fields of cambodia come to america one day for seniors ?
    you bet.
    in america it will be called the end of the senior bubble.

  7. just because you see a photo of one old bony beggar you all think every elderly person is like that in China. The children for the most part go to great lengths for their parents care. Its a long cultural tradition and it hasnt changed.

    1. What in the world are you going on about? Who thinks what just because why? If you’d bother to follow the discussion, you’d notice that the implications of the one child policy figure prominently in people’s thinking.

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