(image provided by china-mike.com, available here)
Recent reports out of China have revealed a trend which may have dire consequences for the Chinese, and the world, economy. Although the Chinese economy is currently growing faster than anticipated, its workforce is steadily declining. In 2012, the country’s working age population – men and women between the ages of 15 and 59 – fell by 3.45 million people to 937.27 million. Statistically this is only a small percentage; however, many view it as a foreshadowing of problems that are on the horizon. As the workforce declines, it increasingly puts China at risk of being in a position where the country will have too many dependents and not enough workers to support them. In other words, young Chinese people without siblings – not everyone’s an only child, since the one-child policy has some exceptions – will have to support as many as four grandparents and two parents in their old age. For the economy as a whole, there will be far fewer workers to produce the goods and services for a still mammoth population.
Granted, no one knows for sure if this worst case scenario will come true, and there are still measures the Chinese can take to alleviate the problem before it gets out of hand. For instance, one example includes turning to immigration. Historically, China has been a supplier of workers to the rest of the world, but as it ages the flow could reverse and the country might seek to recruit immigrants from neighbors like India, the Philippines, and Indonesia, which have large and relatively younger populations. China, however, like Japan, might find it hard to integrate or accept large numbers of foreigners in its midst. Thus, this quick fix would probably only be short term. Nonetheless, it could serve to bridge the gap of the nearly 20 years it would take for babies born now to enter the workforce.
The declining workforce is only one reason to scrap the one child rule. There are moral reasons as well. It represents an invasion of privacy that leads to hardship and trauma, including unwanted abortions or sterilization. Some China experts are hopeful that China’s next president, Xi Jinping, is a reformer who will support more liberal policies. They hope one of the first changes he undertakes is to get rid of the one-child rule.
In your opinion, will China seriously entertain changing a law that has been on its books since 1979? If so, do you see it having the effect this article claims it will? What happens to the economies of countries that outsource much of their manufacturing to China if the Chinese workforce continues to decline?
China has been projected to take over the number 2 spot in the world’s largest economies in the next decade or so. Based on the data featured in this article, however, that might be in doubt. If the workforce declines, this may have a huge impact not only on the domestic affairs of China but also the world’s. China is a huge source of workers, as Joe noted, so companies such as Nike and Apple, which utilize Chinese factories and workers, might have to find new places to build their products. This would lead to a dramatic impact on the Chinese economy.
There is a reason why the law has been in place since 1979. The Chinese leaders realized that such a huge population would not be easy to control and could lead to a disruption of their Communist regime. This is the case especially if the population grows so much that basic necessities like food and shelter are not available and unrest becomes the norm.
I agree that unwanted invasions of privacy are a result of this law and an unwelcome one. However, Chinese leaders have not seemed to care much about those types of problems especially considering the censorship in the country. And I agree with Joe’s point that the Chinese might not welcome foreign workers into the country. Most nations, the U.S. included, have grappled with that problem. There is no easy solution. It is also worth noting that European countries, Italy and Germany especially, are also looking at this problem.
Projections show that China’s labor force will decline in 2025 at about 10 million a year from its current 930 million people. Conversely, by 2030, the country’s elderly population will grow to 360 million. “If this goes on, there will be no taxpayers, no workers and no caregivers for the elderly,” said Gu Baochang, a demography professor at Renmin University. It appears, then, that China may have no choice but to replace its one-child policy. China’s top statistician, Ma Jiantang, made suggestions for a “scientific family planning policy.” Beijing, for example, may permit couples to have two children so as to maintain a low birth rate while boosting the capacity of its working population.
While I understand China’s motivation to retain its influence in the global marketplace, I am bothered that only now, with the decline of its working population, does China contemplate the preservation of life. Reports from Beijing say that it has averted 400 million births since 1980. We forget that the enforcement of this policy results in families being fined, losing their jobs, and – the most disturbing consequence – mothers being forced to abort their babies. If, through its plan to boost its working population China puts an end to its brutal one-child policy, I’ll take it.
I read articles like these and again it makes me think about how lucky we are. I am not a sociology expert, but I am curious to understand how a population of single children grew up and behaved. Having siblings is a huge part of shaping an individual and a family. While a bit off topic, visiting this issue just make you shake your head and wonder what it would be like to have lived with such a law. Amanda makes a good point in that even though morality has been set aside for some time now, if this is the way change has to happen then so be it.
That being said, if immediate action is not taken, it does appear that a huge economic shift could occur. According to sourcingline.com, in 2011 China was 5th in the world for location of outsourced jobs. This could dramatically change with a decreasing population and not enough capacity to handle such allocation of business production. Not only will outsourcing be affected, but so will business growth in China.
While population growth may have been the impetus for the one child policy, trying to maintain control and resources being the goal, such a policy may have the reverse effect as we are now seeing. People not being able to afford resources because they are taking care of the elderly, and control being lost because of an unbearable situation.