How-to China: China's population puzzle

By Chen Meiling | | Updated: 2022-01-18 06:30
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A gathering of senior citizens, with the oldest aged 121, is held in Chengdu, Sichuan province, Oct 13, 2021. [Photo/IC]

Q: What are the most serious challenges for the Chinese population?

Yuan: The willingness to have children is weak. The fertility base is contracting. Reproductive behavior is negative.

For example, the number of women of childbearing age from 15 to 49 is about 330 million and is expected to drop to 200 to 240 million by 2050. The average age for first marriage is 26, and first childbirth is about 28. Mothers of second or third children are much older, which increases risks in reproduction.

Longevity and a low fertility rate lead to an aging population. With the rise of elderly people and the decline of the labor force, the structure of the population will change. This will pose challenges in social development.

Q: What impact will the shrinking population have on Chinese social and economic development?

Yuan: We don't need to be overly pessimistic on this issue. Population is important, but it doesn't determine the rise or fall of a country. China will not break down over a declining population.

The impact will only manifest two decades later or more, because babies born today will grow into a labor force after 20 years. In the short and medium time frame, we will continue to enjoy the "demographic dividend" brought by earlier generations.

Though it's turning toward negative growth, the Chinese population will still stand at around 1.3 billion by 2050, which is a very large size. Five years later, India may replace China as the country with the largest population in the world, but China will remain a close second place. For a long time, the pressure of population on the economy and society will not change. The tension between the large population and limited resources will remain strong.

Even though the number of people of working age will decline, it will still stand at about 720 million by the middle of this century, which is much larger than developed countries. Employment pressure will still be strong, as China goes into a more technological, digital and intelligent industrial era. Artificial intelligence and robots will replace a lot of jobs. And the demand for human labor will focus on quality instead of number.

But we should also see that long-term low fertility is slow suicide for humans and may threaten national security. It would be horrible if the Chinese population dropped to 40 million after 300 years.

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