China: How to Meet Population Challenges

ANDREW MASON, a professor of economics at the University of Hawaii, senior fellow at the East-West Center, and co-author of Population Aging and the Generational Economy, writes in CHINA DAILY:

China, perhaps more than any other country, faces many important and difficult population challenges: reproductive health and reproductive rights, rural-urban migration and reform of the hukou system, and imbalances in the sex ratio at birth. And two deeply connected population issues, the rapid aging of the population, on the one hand, and the low birth rate and the family planning policy on the other, are of great significance to China’s future development.

China’s population is aging as rapidly as anywhere in the world and its low birth rate means it faces a significant population decline in the not too distant future. In part, China’s population will age because people are living longer, an important dimension of China’s great progress. But the country’s low birth rate is the most important reason for population aging, leading to a very top-heavy age structure with many elderly, fewer workers, and even fewer children.

The low birth rate and population aging mean China faces two important economic challenges. The first is maintaining economic growth and poverty reduction, while the second is ensuring economic security for hundreds of millions of elderly.

Since the beginning of economic reform in 1978, changes in age structure have been very favorable in China. Because of the decline in the birth rate, only partly a consequence of the family planning policy, the number of children in China has decreased and the proportion of the population that is of working age increased. This led to a demographic dividend in China that provided an important boost to efforts to increase economic growth. Experts disagree about the size of the demographic dividend, but scholar Wang Feng and I believe that it added about 1.3 percentage points to economic growth between 1978 and 2000, smaller than some have argued, but still an enormous effect. READ MORE.