BEIJING – The number of Chinese who are in their working years will peak in 2013 and then decline afterward, according to a recent report by Allianz, a leading German financial group.
That finding provides further evidence that the Chinese population is getting older on average and that good reasons exist to loosen the country’s family-planning policy.
The national policy, which has been in place since the late 1970s, restricts most urban couples to having a single child.
“If China sticks to its current retirement age, the consequences of the one-child policy will be felt on the labor market from 2013 onward,” said Michael Heise, chief economist and head of corporate development at Allianz.
By 2013, the number of people between the ages of 15 and 59 in China will peak at around 920 million, the Allianz report showed.
According to the latest census data, China’s population stood at 1.34 billion on Nov 1, 2010. From 1990 to 2000, the average rate of annual population increase was 1.1 percent. The following decade saw that rate cut nearly in half, to 0.6 percent.
Meanwhile, because of declining fertility rates and increasing life expectancies, the average age of the population continued to increase. The percentage of people younger than 15 in the total population fell from 22 percent in 2000 to 16.6 percent in 2010, while the percentage of those who are 60 or older rose from 10.4 percent to 13.3 percent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
The old-age dependency ratio – calculated by dividing the number of people aged 65 and older by the number of persons who are between the ages of 15 and 64 and are in the working population – will rise from 11.9 percent to 42 percent by the middle of the century, the bureau said.
“If one takes into account that the official retirement age in China is still 50 or 55 for women and 60 years for men, the relation between people having already retired and those of working age is even worse,” Heise said.
There are now 18 persons aged 60 or older for every 100 persons who are between the ages of 15 and 59 in China. According to the latest United Nations’ estimates, the ratio will increase to somewhere between 40 and 100 by 2030 and to between 64 and 100 by 2050.
Such a change will pose many difficulties to the second largest economy in the world. Stories on labor shortages in China were back in newspapers in January. The story this year, though, came with a twist: Companies in central and western China, which usually have an easy time hiring, are also entering the fray for labor.
Rising labor costs, together with labor shortages, are pressing enterprises to move faster to make improvements and become more efficient. Workers, for their part, are bringing home larger salaries, making them more willing to spend and causing economic growth to be driven more by consumption.
Meanwhile, the older average age of the population has put the country’s insurance system on shaky footing, as fewer young workers contribute to an insurance pool that is being drawn on more by the old.
And according to a joint survey conducted by Taikang Life Insurance and Peking University’s China Center for Insurance and Social Security Research, more than half of Chinese citizens have not purchased commercial life insurance, which is often needed as a protection against certain risks not covered by the public system.
“The swift establishment and improvement of a ‘demography-sustainable’ social security system, with a strong capital-funded pillar, are all the more important,” said Heise.