- Chinese proverb
From The Associated Press:
The report that this article refers to from CSIS can be downloaded here. There are lots of interesting things to note in the lengthy report. This paragraph, in particular, really struck me:
Photo from Daylife.com
BEIJING (AP) — China's rapidly aging population threatens the country's social and economic stability and could affect the prospects of other countries around the world, a U.S. study says.
The current ratio of 16 elderly people per 100 workers is set to double by 2025, then double again to 61 by 2050, according to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
By 2050, there will be 438 million Chinese aged 60 and over, said the study, jointly produced with the Prudential Foundation. Of those, 103 million Chinese will be 80 or older.
China, however, remains a relatively poor country and only about one out of three urban workers has any sort of pension coverage, the report said. The burden of supporting the growing number of elderly would pass to a proportionately shrinking working population.
By the 2020s, demographic trends may be "weakening the two principal pillars of the government's political legitimacy — rapidly rising living standards and social stability," the report said.Read On
China may be the world's oldest living civilization, but for most of its history it has been a demographically young society. As recently as the mid-1960s when Mao Zedong called on the nation's youth to launch the Cultural Revolution, China's median age was 20, meaning that half of the population were children or teenagers. The elderly made up just 7 percent of the population, about what they had since time immemorial.This graph, from the report, is a useful way of looking at China's aging problem:
This problem of China getting too old can, more-or-less, be boiled down to the following two things: improved quality-of-life standards that now let Chinese people reach their elderly years and China's one-child policy.
One of the many benefits of China's modernization is that its citizenry can now enjoy a longer and more healthy life. This is mildly surprising given China's pollution problems. But, in fact, modern advancements in medicine and living standards are outweighing any problems associated with pollution. As the report states, the age-expectancy of a Beijing resident is 80 and a Shanghai resident 81, older expectancies than people in most other developed nations enjoy.
Then there is the one-child policy. On China's male/female ratio crisis, I was hesitant to say that the one-child policy is 100% to blame for the problem. I conceded that there are a lot of cultural things in play as well. But on this issue of aging though, I believe that the one-child policy is directly leading to crisis.
It's pretty simple; if children do not replace elderly people, the population will age and ultimately contract. The CSIS report talks about how the people who decided to implement the one-child policy knew that it would eventually cause problems. But the out-of-control population at the time was seen as a bigger threat than too many old people in a generation or two. So the policy was put in place with little thought about the future consequences. (This kind of reminds me of the "don't give up eating for fear of choking" situation I discussed the other day.)
The consequences of those decisions in the late 1970s and early 1980s are now crystallizing.
China is going to have a massive problem when all of the millions of single children out there, the ones who will be responsible for making China a superpower, are going to have to take care of two elderly parents.
I wonder how long China will be able to avoid putting their elderly into nursing homes, a practice that is widely thought to be degrading and undignified in Chinese society. I don't see how China will be able to avoid going in that direction.
The social consequences of a society that is so elderly are going to be massive. Add China's aging crisis in a generation or two to the long list of problems that the country, and the world, are going to have to deal with.