News >China

Aging population may be catalyst for change

2010-06-24 06:14

SHANGHAI - The increasingly troubling demographics of an aging population in the financial hub of Shanghai may be just the catalyst needed to revise the country's current population policies.

According to the local population authorities, the birth rate of Shanghai's registered population is "at a very low level" in the world. In 2009, the total fertility rate in Shanghai was 0.83, while it was 2.6 globally, including 1.7 in developed Western countries and 1.8 in China.

"The aging population is a serious problem. The city's long-term, low birth rate will structurally skew the population, which will create a series of social problems," said Xie Lingli, director of the Shanghai Population and Family Planning Commission.

Shanghai's aging population began to surface in 1979, 20 years before it became noticeable elsewhere in the country. The city has also seen 17 successive years of negative population growth, according to a report from the Shanghai Municipal Statistics Bureau.

The most populated city in China currently has more than 3 million registered residents aged 60 and above, nearly 22 percent of its population. By 2020, the group is expected to encompass one-third of the city's total population.

In addition to the family planning policy, high living costs and competitive conditions in Shanghai make more and more young people less willing to start a family, contributing to the continuing decline in the birth rate, experts said.

Xie said the first generation of single child families are growing older. It is estimated that from 2013 onwards more than 80 percent of the increasingly aging population will be the parents of single child families.

"Compared to families with multiple children, the offspring in single child families have to bear the burden of elderly parents on their own. The problem of how to provide for the aged is a serious issue," she said.

According to population policies, the parents of single child families are entitled to receive aid from the local government. Assistance is also available to these parents when they retire.

In Shanghai, the parents of single child families receive a 2.5 yuan (37 US cents) bonus each month, the lowest level in the country. They are also entitled to 2,300 yuan of government aid when they retire.

"The policy hasn't changed in nearly three decades," Xie said. "It needs to be revised, taking into account the current population and social situation."

The Shanghai Population and Planning Commission has made similar recommendations to the Shanghai Municipal People's Congress.

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