Nearly a fifth of China’s population is older than 60, according to new data from the country’s Ministry of Civil Affairs which highlights a growing demographic crisis.
After more than 30 years of its notorious one-child policy, the Chinese government began relaxing laws in 2016, and now allows families to have three children – but does not punish those who have more.
Beijing has attempted to counter its rapidly graying population with policies that promote childbirth – but a record low birthrate points to a strong reluctance among young people – especially women – to heed the call.
It’s really expensive to raise a child in China
The cost of raising a first child in China has soared to $76,629, seven times the country’s per capita GDP and far more than in the U.S. or Japan, according to Reuters.
China currently has no national regulation for paid parental leave. While women are encouraged to take a standard 98 days of maternity leave, they can encounter workplace discrimination for being pregnant. Queer couples who want to have children face hurdles, as surrogacy is poorly regulated and a gray area under law, which neither expressly permits nor prohibits it – meaning doctors or hospitals that facilitate the practice can be punished.
Meanwhile, the pet industry is booming as young people – nicknamed “the last generation” over their reluctance to procreate – find cheaper, furrier companions. One pet-owner told the South China Morning Post the responsibilities involved in raising a child were simply too daunting.
As the ‘white hair movement’ protests a lack of benefits, robots plug the elder care gap
A rising number of protests by Chinese pensioners over poor health and pension benefits has been dubbed the “white hair movement” by netizens.
It’s a symptom of a system that is struggling to cope with a cohort of retirees forecast to surpass the entire population of the U.S. within two decades.
Beijing is considering a phased raising of its low retirement age – currently 50 for women who work in factories, 55 for white-collar women, and 60 for men. “Everyone knows the current retirement ages are not sustainable,” Cai Yong, a sociologist, told The Wall Street Journal.
Technology is increasingly plugging the gap in a desperate shortage of elder care. The number of vendors providing bathing services on the Meituan shopping app surged 936% over the past year, while in Shanghai, nursing homes are turning to AI-powered robots to help reduce loneliness. “I can’t imagine a better option than intelligent robots when I’m old, vulnerable, and in need of assistance,” Zheng Yongping, a 68-year-old Shanghai resident, told Sixth Tone.
Immigration could help solve East Asia’s demographic woes
China’s rapidly aging population means a dire shortage in its labor force – a problem also faced by Japan and South Korea. China’s workforce issues are exacerbated by the number of young people moving to countries such as Thailand to escape what they see as a toxic work culture.
All three countries have strict immigration policies that keep younger foreign workers out, but China has the smallest population of foreigners – of its 1.4 billion people, only about 0.1% are immigrants.
China has high thresholds for residency permits – as well as deep-rooted ideas around racial purity that make it difficult for foreigners to settle. “That is a shame. Looser immigration policies would not only help employers with labor shortages. They would also encourage innovation,” writes The Economist.