Tuesday, January 15, 2008

HIgh Cost of China's one-child policy

Everyone praises China for slowing its population increase by allowing only one child per couple. (Why didn't it stop growth?) But it has had one perverse effect and is causing long-term problems. First, the Chinese greatly prefer boys over girls, so they select boys and males outnumber females by 123 to 100. But the big cost comes in the future. China's frantic growth is fueled by 20-year-olds, not 55s. But the population will age quickly with a very small younger cohort. Wall Street Journal:
This "success," however, comes with immense inadvertent costs and unintended consequences. Thanks to a decade and a half of sub-replacement fertility, China's working-age population is poised to peak in size, and then start to decline, more or less indefinitely, within less than a decade. A generation from now, China's potential labor force (ages 15-64) will be no larger than it is today, perhaps smaller. This presages a radical change in China's growth environment from the generation just completed, during which time (1980-2005) the country's working-age population expanded by over 55%. "Composition effects" only make the picture worse. Until now, young people have been the life force raising the overall level of education and technical attainment in China's work force. But between 2005 and 2030, China's 15-24 age group is slated to slump in absolute size, with a projected decline of over 20% in store. In fact, the only part of the working-age population that stands to increase in size between now and 2030 is the over-50 cohort. Will they bring the dynamism we have come to expect from China in recent decades? On current trajectories, China's total population will start to decline around 2030. Even so, China must expect a "population explosion" between then and now -- one entirely comprised of senior citizens. Between 2005 and 2030, China's 65-plus age cohort will likely more than double in size, to 235 million or more, from about 100 million now. And because of the fall-off in young people, China's age profile will "gray" in the decades ahead at a pace almost never before witnessed in human history. China is still a fairly youthful society today -- but by 2030, by such metrics as median population age, the country will be "grayer" than the United States -- "grayer," that is, than the U.S. of 2030, not the U.S. of today. How will China's future senior citizens support themselves? China still has no official national pension system. Up to now, China's de facto national pension system has been the family -- but that social safety net is unraveling, and rapidly. Until very recently, thanks to relatively large Chinese families, almost every Chinese woman had given birth to at least one son -- under Confucian tradition, their first line of support. But just two decades from now, thanks to the "success" of the one-child policy, roughly a third of women entering their 60s will have no living son. In such numbers, one can see the making of a slow-motion humanitarian tragedy. But the withering away of the Chinese family under population control has even more far-reaching implications. In Beijing, Shanghai and other parts of China, extreme sub-replacement fertility has already been in effect for over a generation. If this continues for another generation, we will see the emergence of a new norm: a "4-2-1 family" composed of four grandparents, but only two children, and just one grandchild. The children in these new family structures will have no brothers or sisters, no uncles or aunts, and no cousins. Their only blood relatives will be their ancestors.
I remain an optimist for the human race. Every child is created in God's image and has high value = the same high value as the billionaire. China is hurting itself by its false view of its own people.

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