By Benjamin Cost
We’ve all heard the expression “the old gives way to the new,” but in China, quite the opposite is taking place with a fast-dwindling number of young people and an elderly population that continues to rise. Experts cite increased life expectancy and low birth rates as principal factors in the phenomenon. The Guardian reports:
Life expectancy has soared in China, while fertility has plummeted due to strict birth control policies. In 2009 there were 167 million over-60s, about an eighth of the population. By 2050 there will be 480 million, while the number of young people will have fallen. “It’s a timebomb,” warned Wang Feng of the Brookings-Tsinghua Centre for Public Policy in Beijing.
And despite China’s longstanding tradition of filial piety, there may not be enough young people nor facilities to care for the elderly in the future. In addition to China’s view of old-age homes as taboo, China’s care facilities can only accommodate around 1.6% of the people over 60, almost 7% less than the global average.
Besides the issue of looking after China’s elderly, the booming economy may experience a tumble brought on by an uncommonly high number of working-age people — ironically the same factor that spurred the economic boom in the first place. By 2030, after this working sector has aged, there will be 2 working age people for every citizen over 60 compared to 6 for every 60-and-up 12 years ago.
Ma Jiantang, head of the National Bureau of Statistics, stated that the rising elderly population factored heavily in China’s decision to lower its GDP growth goal to 7.5% last week, the lowest in seven years.
But where there are woes in China’s age distribution problem, there are also opportunities (and not just for youths, who’s chances of making it into the CBA might increase a hundredfold because all their competition will be on oxygen). People’s Daily writes:
This century’s leading countries will be those that empower their aging populations to be active participants in economic growth, rather than treating them as dependent and disabled. This has been called “active aging”.
Chinese policy might even foment this “active aging” by raising the minimum age for retirement as currently, only 20% of Chinese women still work by their mid-50s. China will also need to confront the alarmingly low birth rate, which currently hovers below the 2.1 rate required to keep the population afloat.
Overall, filial piety values, the stigma of old age homes, and birth control laws, along with other Chinese long-held views and policies will need to shift to fight off this looming age-pocalypse.