Aging Before Affluence in China

Population aging is a universal law of economic development and its accompanying social transformation. But China is unique, because it has arrived at a late stage of demographic transition at a relatively early stage of economic development.

BEIJING – Just how fast is China’s population aging, and what does a lower proportion of working-age people mean for the country’s economic development? Can – and should – anything be done, particularly to the country’s “one child” policy, to slow the trend?

Nowadays, most demographic predictions for China are based on the country’s total fertility rate (TFR) of 1.8 – unchanged for 20 years. But population-survey data published by the National Bureau of Statistics suggests that the TFR has been lower than 1.5 for many years, and the United Nations’ newly published report, World Fertility Patterns 2009, revises China’s TFR to 1.4 in 2006, placing it among low-fertility countries.

A long period of low fertility means that China’s population is aging and growth in the working-age population is slowing. According to the UN, the working-age population will stop growing in 2015, while the share of the population that is 65 and older will rise to 9.6% (130 million people), up sharply from 6.8% in 2000.

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