China is reportedly setting the stage for an increase in the retirement age, a deeply unpopular step they feel obliged to take because decades of harsh population control measures left Beijing with a drastic shortage of young workers to pay the expenses for a tidal wave of retirees.
As Voice of America News (VOA) noted Wednesday, China will soon be dealing with over 300 million retirees, a population that rivals that of the entire United States. Providing them with benefits under current planning would cost over a trillion dollars more than Beijing could possibly come up with, especially since the working-age population is declining by about three million per year, and that pace is accelerating as the generation that was not born fails to show up for work.
Efforts to jumpstart population growth after a lifetime of ham-fisted mandatory abortion policies have not been successful – the Chinese population kept declining even after restrictions on childbirth were lifted and the population continued to age.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is therefore looking to raise the current statutory retirement age of 60 for men, 55 for female civil servants, and 50 for women working in non-government jobs, even though 80 percent of the public opposes changing the retirement age. The U.S. retirement age is currently 66 for most of the population, while the global average is about 63.
The groundwork for the unpopular policy change is being laid by government ministers and academics:
“In his annual work report, Chinese Premier Keqiang Li said the retirement age should be raised ”to implement a national strategy to actively address the aging of the population.”
In an interview Saturday, Jin Weigang, who heads the Chinese Academy of Labor and Social Security, which operates under the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MOHRSS), told the state-run Xinhua News Agency that China will raise the retirement age incrementally, extending it by a few months each year until the reform is completed.
You Jun, vice minister of MOHRSS, said China’s current retirement age is generally low, does not match life expectancy and runs counter to demographic changes.
Obstetrician and gynecologist Fuxian Yi, author of a book criticizing the one-child policy called Big Country with an Empty Nest, noted China’s population is effectively aging faster than any other in the world, while its workforce experiences one of the steepest declines.
CNBC quoted other analysts who questioned if the “one-child policy” was the major driver of China’s demographic calamity, arguing that since the workforce kept declining and the population continued aging after the restrictions were lifted, population control policies must not have been the problem. These analysts pointed to rising wages and declining labor demand due to automation as more important factors in China’s workforce crisis.
These arguments could be letting population control policies off the hook too easily. For one thing, China only relaxed the restrictions in 2016 to allow two children for most families and is only now thinking about allowing larger families. The reality of population decline is that an average of more than two children per couple is necessary to maintain stability, and since some couples choose not to have children – especially upwardly-mobile career-focused urbanites, a growing segment of the Chinese population – it is necessary for many families to have three or more kids to take up the slack. A two-child limit could, at best, have slowed demographic decline and had no chance whatsoever of reversing it.
It is also difficult to measure the social impact decades of one-child tyranny inflicted upon the Chinese people. A few years might not be enough time to reverse the cultural impact on a generation that was taught to view having more than one child as a crime, and now China is also dealing with the same problem as most contemporary industrialized societies: young professionals losing interest in marrying young and starting families early. The one-child policy cratered China’s population growth, and now it has inherited the same demographic crisis afflicting many advanced economies, plus the pressure on retirement programs created by lengthening human lifespans.