Increasing Numbers of China’s Elderly May Slow Economic Growth

Seen by many as a result of the country’s twenty-eight year enforced family planning policy, China’s population is aging faster than that of any other country and will undoubtedly have a negative effect on economic growth. Director of aging research at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Richard Jackson, revealed that research results indicate that by the year 2020, China’s population will include around 400 million people aged 60 years and older, with around 100 million being older than 80. Moreover, by the year 2050, at least a third of China’s 1.4 billion inhabitants will be 60 and over.

During the time that Deng Xiaoping served as the de facto leader of the People’s Republic of China between 1978 and the early 1990s he started steering China away from many communist principles in favor of capitalism. At the same time, China’s government imposed a one-child policy to slow the increasing population. This one-child generation is starting to enter the workforce, and with free-market capitalism now the order of the day, adult children in one-child families have opportunities they had never before considered. Having no siblings to share the load with, many have left their aging parents to cope on their own. Even when living close by, many aging parents don’t want to be a burden on their only child and choose to try and make ends meet on their own. However, with rising expenses and deteriorating health this can be a daily challenge for many.

According to the calculations of Dr. Cai Fang of the Institute of Population and Labor Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who has been investigating this situation, in five years the growing number of elderly will slow down China’s economic growth. This situation has not escaped the attention of China’s government and steps are being taken to provide for the elderly. Under the direction of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabo, the country’s basic social security plan has been increased significantly. Whereas in the 2000, only 18.6 percent of the population was eligible for benefits, under the revised plan, at least 90 percent of the population is eligible. Additionally the government has extended coverage in basic government health care insurance and has refined the pension system that was initiated five years ago.

Opinion polls carried out by China’s National Committee on the Aging reveals that the vast majority of the country’s elderly would prefer to remain in their own homes during their retirement and many believe that the primary responsibility for their care rests with the state. This presents a problem because, although the state has made plans to assist the elderly, given the sheer numbers it will be dealing with, many consider it unrealistic to expect the state to be the sole supporter of individuals. Family members, as well as the elderly themselves, will still have to carry the prime responsibility and should make provisions for retirement.