How China Can Deal with Its Rapidly Aging Population

How China Can Deal with Its Rapidly Aging Population

REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

China has officially lifted its one-child policy as part of its 13th five-year plan. The question is whether China can limit the negative economic effects of its population growth, despite having created the most lopsided population on the planet. In all likelihood, a two-child policy will not do it.   

As a result of the one-child policy, China’s population is about 400 million people smaller than it would otherwise be. Over 20 percent of the population is over 55, and the number of younger people is plummeting. By 2050, the number of “senior” Chinese will equal Europe’s entire population and outstrip Americans of all ages!

There is little doubt that three decades of China’s draconian one-child policy exacerbated this demographic cataclysm. But as Nick Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute points out, the aging population was happening anyway. As part of modernization and urbanization, we have seen the profound transformation of society from young to old across Asia, virtually all of Europe and North America, and in emerging markets from Brazil to Turkey

If the Chinese want economic growth, they will have to focus on how to keep its colossal aging population healthy, active, productive -- and working.    

Here are three core initiatives for an economic growth strategy: 

China’s next economic miracle: Embracing older workers. Since liberalizing its markets, China has been transformed into the world’s economic juggernaut, with GDP growth averaging nearly 10% per year. Leveraging its aging population to sustain growth will require training programs and learning opportunities to tap into its overlooked older citizens. One quick solution would be to eliminate the idea of retirement itself, which would also establish the Chinese as a global leader in the treatment of aging populations.

Making China’s megacities age-friendly. China added more than 500 million people to its cities in the past 35 years. These hubs will need to become global leaders in facilitating much longer life spans by keeping their seniors active, employed and engaged.  

Leading global healthy-aging efforts. China can be a leader in the 21st century challenge of enabling a healthy aging process. If Alzheimer’s is a worldwide challenge, the aging of China’s population will ensure it becomes their fiscal nightmare. As the Chinese lead the G-20 next year, they could spearhead the fight to find a cure for Alzheimer’s.  

Repealing the one-baby policy is a start, but China must also immediately and urgently take the steps for a healthier and more active aging of a massively older population.