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Births, workforce and aging: The demographics scare Beijing


Beijing (AsiaNews / Agencies) – China’s demographic picture is starting to look a lot like that of Japan: births are declining, the workforce is getting smaller and the population is aging. This is what the latest official figures from the Beijing government report.

While the country’s economy grew 6.9% in 2017, from 6.7% in 2016, its demographic statistics are less positive. Despite the national introduction of the two-child policy in 2015, last year the number of new births fell to 17.23 million, from 17.86 million in 2016. This is stated by the National Statistics Bureau. At the same time, the workforce – defined as that between the ages of 16 and 59 – fell by over 5 million in 2017.

Meanwhile, the percentage of people over the age of 65 continues to grow. The authorities declare that at the end of 2017 this band represented 11.4% of the total population, increasing compared to 10.8% of the previous year. This means that China has 158.31 million people over the age of 65, a number greater than the entire Russian population.

Since rising to power in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has gradually eased population controls. The infamous one-child policy, introduced in 1979 to control population growth, was revised towards the end of 2013, when couples were granted the right to conceive a second child, if one of the parents was an only child. Two years later, the one-child policy ended and all the couples were allowed to have two children.

The government’s tough population control measures have reduced the number of new births by about 200 million over the last forty years, undermining the country’s growth potential. This is what emerges from research conducted by Zhou Tianyong, deputy director of the Institute for International Strategic Studies of the Beijing Central Party School. “If no provision is taken to address it [the population decline] … it will only increase the cumulative damage resulting from a reduction in the labor force on demand, income and GDP production,” says Zhou.

The effects of demographic changes are tangible. The government is under increasing pressure as provincial pension funds quickly deplete reserves, as the aging of the population puts a strain on the social security regime. According to a report by the Academy of Social Sciences, about half of the funds are in deficit and the burden of supporting older people is up to the younger workforce.

The study reveals that the problem is particularly severe in the north-eastern provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning, where the percentage of retired people has increased, while the workforce has decreased as the workers move elsewhere. The rich coastal areas, like Guangdong, and cities like Beijing have more money to cover pensions because they tend to attract migrant workers.

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