China’s aging population

12 May

Within China today there is a large proportion of the population which is considered to be elderly people, and this is further increasing. This is because of two significant factors; firstly fewer people are dying, which can be explained by increased technological advances in the country. Secondly the introduction of the one child policy means that there are fewer people being born and this restriction significantly affects the proportion of young people.

The population is aging in many other countries around the world for example in the United Kingdom, reasons can be given as to why this includes an increase in GDP, also  the population becomes better educated. A consequence of this is that people put off starting a family till later in life. In the UK it will take up to 45 years for the percentage of those aged over 65 to increase from 7 to 14 percent; in comparison with China this would only take 25 years as the speed of fertility decline is much greater. This has implications on society at large, the impacts can be seen on health-care costs, social cost and impacts how accessible the welfare state is and needs to become.

In the case of China a greater challenge is presented as provisions for the elderly are often made through social care and informal social services provided often by the family. The one child policy means that one person has the burden of caring for and supporting both their elderly parents and up to 4 grandparents, and as the generation of the one child policy are becoming of age it will be interesting to see what provisions will be made by the government, and how sustainable it will be as increasingly a large portion of the population fall within the ageing category.




Cai, F., Giles, J. O’Keefe, P. and Wang, D. (2012) The Elderly and Old Age Support in Rural China: Challenges and Prospects. Washington DC: The World Bank.

Joseph, A. F and Philips, D. R. (1991) ‘Aging in rural China: Impacts of Interesting diversity in family and community resources’, Journal of Cross-cultural Gerontology 14 (2) 153-168

Woo, J. Kowk, T. Szs, F. K. H. Yuan, H.J. (2002) ‘Ageing in China: health and social 


4 Responses to “China’s aging population”

  1. cjf3g11 May 13, 2013 at 10:15 am #

    It is interesting to establish what actually caused China’s aging population, and what will its implications be. It wasn’t just the one child policy that resulted in this aging population, but actually the problem originally stems from its government’s stance – Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China, initially encouraged a high birth rate because he thought a large population would give China military and economic power. after Mao past away the government completely reversed his encouragement of high birth rate towards a drastic one child policy – resulting in the population bulge called the ‘4-2-1 phenomenon’, where one child is supporting two parents and four grandparents.
    So what are the implications of this population bulge?
    According to Caixin, a Beijing newspaper, there is already a shortage of residential facilities and nursing services for the elderly, a problem that will intensify unless additional investment is made in elderly care. It also reduces the number of labourers, which will in turn influence China’s manufacturing sector. Furthermore, it could cause problems for china’s military. Not only will there not be enough children of military age by 2020 but because parents and grandparents have only been able to have one child, causalities and deaths of their children can lead to social tension and instability.

  2. ags2g09 May 14, 2013 at 7:52 pm #

    This is an interesting article, though I can’t help but feel that perhaps the problem is overstated or misunderstood. Yes, the population is aging currently, and I would agree that medical advances are leading to the result that the percentage of elderly people in China is higher now than it was 50 years ago, but surely, on account of the fertility reduction China has seen since 1970, the number of elderly people must surely fall in time on account of the fact that less people are being born in the first instance.

    I would also disagree that such fertility reduction is a direct result of the one-child policy. The Chinese government have claimed that the policy has had the desired effect, cutting out what is an estimated 400 million births, had the policy not been in place. However, Cai Yong, a population expert at the University of North Carolina, has pointed out that the fertility levels would have been reduced anyway – perhaps even more if the policy had not been introduced. In explaining this point, Cai Yong tells us that by looking at China’s fertility history prior to the introduction of the policy, we can predict where China would be had it never been introduced. The policy was introduced in 1979; from 1970-1978, the number of children per woman in China decreased from 5.8 to 2.7. Under the one-child policy, the number is now 1.6 – though Cai Yong suggests it would be even lower without the policy, since its introduction caused ‘anxiety among the population’ – a claim supported by the fact that the ages of first marriage and first childbearing decreased during the 1980s. Not only that, but exemptions are made to the policy on account of factors such as location and the sex of the first child – and wealthier couples can simply pay the fine and have more children if they desire.

    China has surely evolved since 1950, when it was a country that had a smaller population and an average life expectancy of 44. The 4-2-1 family issue is a real one, and one that I would agree will cause serious problems with regards to elderly healthcare over the near future. However, as the population among the youth falls, so will the entire population, in time. The PERCENTAGE of elderly people in China may stay the same, but the NUMBER will fall.


  3. zk1e11 May 14, 2013 at 10:57 pm #

    Over the past last 20 years, China has experienced what the expert called a demographic window of opportunity. UN data shows that the working age population is growing from 66% of China’s total population in 1990 to more than 72%t in 2010, fueling the nation’s economic rise, when it grows at an average rate of nearly 10% annually.
    China’s working age population is expected to reduce to 61% of the total population by 2050, according to the UN.A one-child policy introduced in 1977 and rolled out nationwide 2 years later has contributed to falling birth rates, while life expectancy has gone up.

  4. iw4g11iw4g11 May 15, 2013 at 1:32 pm #

    I think that the consequences of this ageing population are dependent of the culture of the new generation and the rate of urbanization. The 12th 5 year plan hopes to increase urbanization rate to 51.5% from 47.5% this in conjunction with the rise in GDP per capita and the introduction of social welfare reforms. If these plans are successful and the culture of the new generation is family orientated then the burden of an ageing population is much different to that of western countries. As the dependency will most likely fall onto the family rather than the inefficient (due to transaction costs and other costs) of a redistributive welfare system. Though this net must be put in place and taxation of the rich must become more Stringent.

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