I thought today that I would follow up Shannon’s blogpost from last week about China’s demographic decline. This piece from the Economist shows that the inexorable rise of the Dragon will be hindered by its demographic Achilles heel. According to the UN medium variant population projection, China’s population will dip to below 1.3 billion in 2050 (assuming that its very low fertility rate starts to recover). However, if its fertility rate remains at about 1.5-1.6 children per women then China will have less than 1 billion people in 2060. Thus, China can no longer be considered the factory of the world – its workforce will actually start to shrink in absolute terms after 2013. If China wants to continue to supply its hungry factories with hands then it will need to look offshore for workers. Who knows what problems large scale immigration will bring to China, it is, after all, a country that does not have a history of integrating migrants in large numbers in recent times.
Here are some other demographic numbers where China is set to outperform the USA. Apart from surpassing the USA in terms of manufactured output, car sales and energy use (and perhaps by 2017 in terms of economic size at purchasing-power parity) China will also by 2050 be much more advanced in terms of its median age. Half of China’s population will be below and half above the age of 49 in 2050, compared with the USA’s 40 years. By 2050, the share of the population the over-65 age bracket in China will have grown 17.4 percentage points from 2010, whereas the same group in the USA will only have grown 8.1%.
In short, China is not having enough babies and its remaining population is getting old. And with a growing number of Chinese elderly who cannot rely on their family for support, rest homes are in hot demand (according to this article, also from the Economist). What is interesting is the role that NGOs, and particularly religious organisations, are taking on to provide these rest homes. In Hangzhou, a city 180kms south west of Shanghai, 20% of the 33,000 beds for the elderly are provided by NGOs. Because of the demand that the ageing population is creating for rest homes, the Chinese Government is starting to look for help – even from religious organisations that it is traditionally wary of. Although it only applies to officially approved religious organisations, in late February the government issued a document that seemed to encourage religious groups to do charity work.
Is this a recognition that the one child policy is creating a problem that the Chinese Government can’t deal with? Who would have thought that ripping babies to shreds in their mother’s wombs while the mother is held unwilling on the operating table would turn out to have such bad consequences?
The sooner that China wakes up to its demographic malaise and rescinds this unjust one child policy the better. We must continue to bang the drum – the future generations are not a disease to be immunised against, surgically removed and generally avoided at all costs! I hope that I live to see the day when Chen Guangcheng is mentioned around the world in the same breath as Wilberforce, Clarkson or Harriet Beecher Stowe?