20080222-people by age group 1148055065 BBC.gif With such a huge population, every social problem is magnified. If 10 percent of the population in China is unemployed, for example, the number of people out of work is equal to half the population of the United States. A migrant from Henan told journalist Howard French, “I’m frightened for my son’s future, China’s biggest problem is the population. There are just too many of us, and the competition for opportunity is murderous.” [Source: Howard W. French, New York Times, August 28, 2009]

The Chinese word population is made up of two characters one for “people” and one for “open mouth.” Already the strains of over population have caused severe water shortages in places with high rainfall and produced housing shortages in cities where the average person lives in the space the size of a small closet (12 square feet per person). See Problems in Feeding the World's Largest Nation Under Agriculture, Economics

The economy in China is booming in part because 70 percent of the population is of working age. This will change dramatically as the population ages and fewer children become adults because of the old child policy. According to The Economist: Demography is like a supertanker; it takes decades to turn around. China has one of the world’s lowest “dependency ratios”, with roughly three economically active adults for each dependent child or old person. It has therefore enjoyed a larger “demographic dividend” (extra growth as a result of the high ratio of workers to dependents) than its neighbours. But the dividend is near to being cashed out. Between 2000 and 2010, the share of the population under 14 — future providers for their parents’slumped from 23 percent to 17 percent. China now has too few young people, not too many. It has around eight people of working age for every person over 65. By 2050 it will have only 2.2. Japan, the oldest country in the world now, has 2.6. China is getting old before it has got rich. [Source: The Economist July 21, 2011]

Good Websites and Sources: National Bureau of Statistics of the People's Republic of China;
United Nations Population Fund ; Trends in Chinese Demography ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Institute of Population and Labor Economics

Global Environmental Impact of China’s Population

Kenneth R. Weiss wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “The Chinese are living better overall: consuming more food, energy and goods than ever. One-fourth of the population — the equivalent of everyone in the United States — has entered the middle class. The U.S. consumes much more per person. But with a population four times larger, China has a greater collective appetite — and a greater ecological impact — than any other country. [Source: Kenneth R. Weiss, Los Angeles Times, July 22, 2012 /=/]

“The compounding forces of economic and population growth are a source of increasing concern to scientists. An international team of 1,300 researchers organized by the United Nations concluded that evidence points to "abrupt and potentially irreversible changes" in ecosystems in the next few decades, including mass extinctions and rapid climate change. How this drama plays out is not merely China's concern. Because of the nation's sheer size, the rest of the world has an enormous stake in the outcome. "To solve China's problems is to solve the world's problems," said Yu Xuejun, a director-general in the country's National Population and Family Planning Commission. /=/

“Tendrils of soot extend across the Pacific. On some days, almost 25 percent of the pollutants in the air above Los Angeles originated in China, the Environmental Protection Agency has found. Under international pressure, China has cracked down on some of its dirtiest plants, mainly to reduce soot or pollutants like sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain and aggravates asthma and heart disease. /=/

“China relies on coal to meet about two-thirds of its energy needs. Despite major investments in solar, wind and nuclear energy, coal consumption continues to climb. Although China has the third-largest reserves in the world, it is reaching around the world for more. It overtook Japan this year as the world's largest coal importer, drawing mostly from Indonesia and Australia. Its imports are expected to double by 2015. Those trends are worrisome to climate scientists, who say that in order to avoid a potentially catastrophic rise in global temperatures, worldwide carbon dioxide emissions must be cut in half by 2050. For that to happen, China's emissions would have to peak by 2020, said Nobuo Tanaka, former director of the Paris-based International Energy Agency, which advises governments on energy issues. But by China's own projections, its output will rise at least 50 percent from current levels before peaking around 2035. Chinese leaders say that capping emissions would cripple industrial growth and urban development in a country that still has 100 million poor people.” /=/

Problems Created by the Low Birth Rate in China

The population growth rate in China is reaching zero — if it hasn’t reached it already — and after that its population will decline. The population growth rate is 0.26 percent (2021 est.) according to the CIA World Factbook. From 2016 to 2019, the annual birth rate mostly declined with the exception of 2016. Kevin Yao and Ryan Woo of Reuters wrote: “China has long worried about its population growth as it seeks to bolster its economic rise and boost prosperity. [Source: Kevin Yao and Ryan Woo, Reuters, May 11, 2021]

China’s labor force is expected to fall roughly 23 per cent by 2050, according to official data. Sophia Yan wrote in The Telegraph: ““Beijing is concerned about long-term economic stagnation at a time where the Chinese economy is growing at its slowest rate in decades. Double-digit growth in gross domestic product (GDP) has sunk to single digits, while debt climbed to reach some 254 percent of GDP as at the end of 2018. Jane Li wrote in Quartz:“The continued drop in new births is a ticking time bomb for Beijing. Fewer births means less labor force supply, which in turn adds to the pressure on a pension system that relies on contributions from the working population. China had 254 million elderly residents aged 60 or above in 2019, according to the statistics bureau — that’s 18 percent of the whole population of 1.4 billion. That number is expected to expand to 300 million by 2025, according to China’s ministry of civil affairs. Some research suggests a bleak conclusion: China’s state pension scheme could run out of funding by 2035 due to the shrinking workforce. That would be a huge issue for the Party, whose top priority is to maintain social stability. [Source: Jane Li, Quartz, February 9, 2021; [Source: Sophia Yan, The Telegraph, April 28, 2021]

Analysts believe that the effects on the economy have already begun to be felt and will become more pronounced as the labor force shrinks and the burden of elderly care grows heavier. Factory owners in the workshop cities of coastal China describe a shortage of workers and the accompanying cycle of wage hikes necessary to retain staff. The size and youth of the Chinese labour force have been decisive factors in the country's breakneck economic expansion.

Joe McDonald and Huizhong Wu of the Associated Press wrote: As China’s population growth falls closer to zero, Chinese leaders worry the number of working-age people is falling too fast, disrupting efforts to create a prosperous economy. China’s working age population of people aged 15 to 59 is declining after hitting a 2011 peak of 925 million. That is boosting wages as companies compete for workers. But it might hamper efforts to develop new industries and self-sustaining economic growth based on consumer spending instead of trade and investment. The working-age population was three-quarters of the total in 2011 but will fall to just above half by 2050, according to Lu. The Ministry of Labor and Social Security said in 2016 that group might shrink to 700 million by then. “If the population gets too old, it will be impossible to solve the problem through immigration,” said Lu. “It needs to be dealt with at an early stage.” [Source: Joe McDonald and Huizhong Wu, Associated Press, May 11, 2021

“Japan, Germany and some other rich countries face the same challenge of supporting aging populations with fewer workers. But they can draw on decades of investment in factories, technology and foreign assets. China is a middle-income country with labor-intensive farming and manufacturing. The International Monetary Fund is forecasting Chinese economic growth of 8.4 percent in 2021, following a rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. The ruling Communist Party wants to double output per person from 2020 levels by 2035, which would require annual growth of about 4.7 percent." Some demographers view a population decline as a positive things, saying it will reduce food and water shortages and curb pollution.

China's Aging Population

A major consequence of a low birth rate and the one-child policy has been an increasingly older population. Chinese over 60 number 264 million and accounted for 18.7 percent of the country’s total population in 2020, according to that year’s census, 5.44 percent higher than in 2010. At the same time, the working-age population fell to 63.3 percent of the total in 2020 from 70.1 percent in 2010. [Source: Associated Press, August 21, 2021]

China’s elderly population is growing rapidly while the number of young adults is shrinking, a huge demographic shift that has been building for decades. While the elderly still make up a relatively small share of China’s population compared with some Western nations, their proportion of the population nearly doubled in the 2000s and 2010s. By 2050, some demographers predict, one in four Chinese will be 65 or older. The 2020 census showed that people over 60 years of age account for almost 18 percent of the populace, compared 13.26 percent in 2010 and 10.33 percent in 2000. By 2040, this figure is projected to spike to a stunning 28 percent. A 2010 study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) forecast that by 2030, the proportion of the population that is over 65 will exceed even that of Japan, which has the grayest population in Asia. "By 2050, Chinese society will enter into a phase of severe agedness," the CASS said. [Source: Willy Lam, China Brief, Jamestown Foundation, May 6, 2011]

China is quickly fulfilling the oft-repeated adage that "China is becoming old before it becomes rich." China’s demographic dividend — a reference to speedy economic expansion due to an increase of the proportion of Chinese who are working — is forecast by official economists to decline sharply from around 2013. And by 2039, less than two Chinese taxpayers may have to look after one retiree.

The nation’s elderly population could reach 400 million by the end of 2035, up from 240 million in 2018, year, according to government forecasts. As of 2005 about 143 million people (more than 10 percent of the population) were over 60. This is more than population of all but about ten countries. The rate is expected to increase at a rate of 100 million a decade. By 2050, there are expected to be 438 million elderly, or one out of four Chinese, compared with one out of ten in 1980. By 2020 the number of people between 20 and 24 is expected to be half of the 124 million in 2010. During the same time period the number of people over 60 is expected to jump from 12 percent of the population — 167 million people — to 17 percent. By 2050 China will have more than 100 million over 80.

According to the UNPD's projections, China's 65-plus age group is expected to grow at a pace of almost 3.8 percent per annum. By 2035, nearly one in five Chinese will be 65 or older. In Shanghai, people over 60 made up 21.6 percent of the population in 2010 and were expected to make up 34 percent in 2020. Similar trends are occurring across the country, especially in urban areas where the working-age population is expect to peak in about 2015.

Consequences of Graying Population in China

An aging population means that relatively small group of young people has to economically support a large number of elderly people. Health care and pension costs will soar as elderly people make up a larger portion of the population. There will be a labor shortage as the demands by the elderly exceed the ability to young people to meet them. The ratio of working people to retirees is dropping quickly. Immigrant labor will be needed to make up the shortfall.

China is the first nation to have to cope with a population that is getting older before it becomes rich. The elderly population is expected to mushroom before the economy and society have the capability to deal with the problem. Already, China is racking up health care and pension costs it can not afford as people born in the 1950s and 60s begin retiring. By 2035 and 2040 the peak of the aging problem China will face a social security deficient of $128 billion.

Anthony Fensom wrote in the National Interest: Pension payouts reached 640 billion yuan ($90 billion) in 2016, up 140 percent from five years earlier. Analysts suggest this figure could rise substantially, to as high as 60 trillion yuan annually by 2050, accounting for more than 20 percent of total government spending. This is despite China’s social security, pension and healthcare system being relatively limited, with an estimated 900 million Chinese living with little social safety net. “In advanced countries, the cohort of those aged over sixty roughly doubled to about 24 percent of the population between 1950 and 2015. At that point, per capital income was about $41,000,” notes Bloomberg Opinion columnist Shuli Ren. “In China, this process is going to take just another 12 years, to 2030. But its income per head in 2025 would still be only a third of the level in advanced economies in 2015.” [Source: Anthony Fensom, National Interest, September 16, 2019]

Nicholas Eberstad wrote in Far Eastern Economic Review, “The aging situation is likely to be even more acute in the Chinese countryside due to the ongoing migration of younger, rural-born workers to towns and cities. According to the projections of a team of demographers led by Professor Zeng Yi of Peking University, China's rural areas are probably already grayer than its cities — and the difference will grow starker every year. Prof. Zeng's team projects that by 2035 over one in four rural residents would be 65 or older.” Despite three decades of dizzying economic growth, rural China remains terribly poor. Average income levels in the Chinese countryside are reportedly less than one third as high as that of Chinese cities. Japan's per capita income level today is maybe 15 or 20 times higher than in rural China.
[Source: Nicholas Eberstad, Far Eastern Economic Review, December 2009. Eberstadt holds the Henry Wendt Chair in political economy at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and is senior adviser to the National Bureau of Asian Research]

Who will care for this looming wave of retirees? Certainly it will not be the country's existing pension system. That irregular and arbitrary patchwork construct consists mainly of special arrangements for employees of certain municipalities and state enterprises, covering only a fraction of the country's workforce. Yet even these existing programs are manifestly unsound from an actuarial standpoint. Whereas the net present value of the U.S. social security system's unfunded liabilities are equivalent to America's total output for about one third of a year, the estimated liabilities of China's system are in excess of 100 percent of GDP. The existing social security system is doomed to collapse under its own weight.

The traditional Chinese social security system has in fact always been the family, with family members looking after their elderly in countryside and city alike. But with the collapse of Chinese fertility below replacement levels in the 1990s, the Chinese family has become a much frailer support system. In Confucian societies, the first line of support has always been the son. In the 1990s, practically every Chinese woman approaching retirement age had at least one son to turn to: in that time, all but 8 percent of Chinese women who were reaching the age of 60 had given birth to at least one male child. By 2025 the corresponding proportion of older women who have borne no sons will increase to about 30 percent, meaning that one in three elderly couples will have no sons as they head toward retirement age. For many of these individuals, eking out sustenance in old age may amount to a begging game, whereby they beseech the families of their daughters and sons-in-law to divert resources that would otherwise be committed to the son-in-law's parents. Yet even for those who do have a son, support from one's progeny will require that the traditional ethos of filial piety holds firm; a presumption that may no longer be taken for granted in a country whose lifestyles and mores are undergoing rapid change.

Shrinking Labor Population in China

China is facing a critical shortage of laborers caused by 30 years of restricting family size. In 2012 the working-age population of China shrank for the first time, threatening a mainland economic miracle built upon a pool of surplus labor. China's working population between ages 15 and 59 peaked at 941 million in 2011, but declined to about 937 million in 2012. [Source: Kenichi Yoshida and Takahiro Suzuki, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 31, 2013]

The working-age population fell to 63.3 percent of the total population in 2020 from 70.1 percent in 2010. From 2010 to 2030 China's working-age population — those ages 15 to 64 — is expected to lose 67 million workers—more than the entire population of France—according to United Nations projections. Over that period, the elderly population is projected to soar from a tenth to a quarter of the population, according to U.N. data. China's population, the world's largest, rose to 1.34 billion in 2010, according to census data. It had been projected to peak at around 1.4 billion in 10 years but decline for the next 30. [Source: Associated Press, August 21, 2021; Laurie Burkitt, Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2013]

China’s once cheap and plentiful pool of workers is becoming more scarce and expensive; the labor force declined by 3.45 million in 2012 and is expected to decrease by 10 million per year starting in 2025. The shrinking pool of workers will be forced to support an expanding population of senior citizens — 200 million in 2013 — that is expected to arrive at 360 million (more than the current U.S. population) in 2030. Meanwhile, over the next two decades, pension liabilities may reach more than $10 trillion.

Anthony Fensom wrote in the National Interest: “ The working-age populationshrank for four straight years after peaking in 2013. As a result, China’s dependency rate—the portion of nonworking people, including children and the elderly—rose for the first time in more than thirty years in 2011 and is expected to continue rising. [Source: Anthony Fensom, National Interest, September 16, 2019]

Consequences of a Shrinking Labor Force in China

Chun Han Wong of the Wall Street Journal wrote: China’s shrinking pool of working-age people – ages between 16 and 59 would impose growing burdens on the country’s pension system. People aged 60 and above are projected to make up nearly 39 percent of the country’s population by 2050, up from roughly 15 percent currently. Currently, three working people are supporting each retiree, but that ratio will tumble to about 1.3 workers for each retiree by 2050—a trend that would put further strains on China’s public finances and social-security system. [Source: Chun Han Wong, China Real Time, Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2015 ]

Laurie Burkitt wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Wang Feng, a demographer at Fudan University in Shanghai, and other population experts have argued for several years that the government was running out of time to change course. Birthrates had already fallen, in some cities to levels below that needed to replace the current population. If left unchecked, they said, the labor force would shrink, pressuring wages and inflation, and fewer workers would be taking care of a growing elderly population, potentially creating a pension shortfall. [Source: Laurie Burkitt, Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2013]

“Companies manufacturing or operating in China have already seen their profits diminish as the supply of labor—seen as China's most competitive advantage in attracting foreign companies to its turf—tightens, pushing up wages. The predicament has caused experts to wonder if the world's No. 2 economy would grow old before it gets rich. Japan's long slump beginning in the 1990s occurred after a similar dip in demographics, though Japan was far wealthier at the time than China is currently and was able to absorb the slowdown in growth. Population experts said the latest move, while positive, fails to fully steer China away from the demographic crisis. "The entire policy should have been abolished," said Liang Zhongtang, a demographer from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Concerned about the economic effects of a smaller labor pool and a rapidly aging population, the government in late 2013 relaxed its long-standing "one-child" policy, allowing more families to have a second son or daughter. But so far, a smaller-than-expected number of couples have applied for permission to expand their brood. "China's second-child push falls short," the People's Daily newspaper said in a recent headline, noting that authorities had anticipated 2 million applications in 2014 but received fewer than half that number. Still, the paper quoted a government spokesman as calling the numbers "in line with expectations," in part because different provinces relaxed their policies at different times in 2014. Many observers believe the easing of the one-child policy will have little effect. Zheng Zizhen, former director of Guangdong Social Sciences, who is familiar with population issues, is one such skeptic. "The issue now is not about having children, but about not having children," he said. [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, January 19, 2015 *]

End of Labor Force Growth in China

Too many old people and too few young workers could slow economic growth in China. In the worst case the government and families will have to tap into savings to take care of the elderly, reducing funds for investments and driving up interest rates. As the working-age population shrinks, labor cost will rise. China’s aging population could undermine the advantages of low-cost labor by the middle of the 21st century. In 2007 China had six people in the workforce for every retiree but this ratio while fall to 2:1 by 2050. Nicholas Eberstad wrote in Far Eastern Economic Review, “China's explosive economic growth between 1979 and 2008 was historically unprecedented in pace, duration, and scale. A repeat performance over the coming generation is most unlikely for one simple reason: the demographic inputs that facilitated this amazing first act are no longer available. [Source: Nicholas Eberstad, Far Eastern Economic Review, December 2009. Eberstadt holds the Henry Wendt Chair in political economy at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., and is senior adviser to the National Bureau of Asian Research]

Over the 1980-2005 generation, China's working-age population — defined here as the 15- to 64-year-old group — grew by about 2 percent per annum. Yet over the coming generation, China's prospective manpower growth rate is zero. By the “medium variant” projections of the United Nations Population Division (UNPD), the 15- to 64-year-old group will be roughly 25 million persons smaller in 2035 than it is today, and by 2035 it would be dropping at a tempo of about 0.7 percent per year. In fact, by the U.S. Census Bureau's reckonings, China's conventionally defined manpower will peak by 2016 and will thereafter commence an accelerating decline. Though these forecasts concern events far in the future, they are more than mere conjecture; virtually everyone who will be part of China's 15- to 64-year-old-group in the year 2024 is alive today. If current childbearing trajectories continue, by the UNPD's reckoning, each new generation will be at least 20 percent smaller than the one before it.

These numbers alone would augur ill for the continuation of rapid economic growth in China, but the situation is even more unfavorable when one considers the shifts in the composition of China's working-age population. In modern societies, it is the youngest cohorts of the labor force who have the best health, the highest levels of education, the most up-to-date technical skills — and thus the greatest potential to contribute to productivity. In China, however, this cohort has been shrinking for a generation, and stands to shrink still further, in both relative and absolute terms. In 1985, 15- to 29-year-olds accounted for 47 percent of China's working age population. Today that proportion is down to about 34 percent of the workforce. By Census Bureau projections, 20 years from now it will have fallen to just barely 26 percent of China's conventionally defined labor force.

The only reason China's working age population will not shrink more rapidly over the next few decades is because of an enormous coming wave of laborers in the 50- to 64-year-old age range. This group looks to swell by over 100 million between 2009 and 2029, growing from 22 percent of the working population to roughly 32 percent. The educational profile of this group is far more elementary than is generally appreciated: according to official Chinese census data, 47 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds have not completed primary schooling.

With this coming “age wave,” the structure of China's labor force will be inverted. A generation ago, there were nearly three times as many younger workers as older workers. Today there are half again as many younger workers as older ones. Two decades from now, the Census Bureau projects 120 older prospective workers for every 100 younger ones (at which point the situation may then stabilize, depending upon fertility trends). It's not exactly an ideal transformation in the labor force structure if one is aiming to maintain rapid rates of economic growth.

The situation might be easier for economic planners to cope with if China were still a nation with an abundance of underemployed labor. But policy makers in Beijing can no longer count on these once huge reserves. Instead, leading Chinese economists — among them Professor Cai Fang, director of the Institute of Population and Labor Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences — argue that the Chinese economy has already reached a turning point where those seemingly unlimited reserves of rural labor have actually been tapped out, and any future increase in demand for labor will only be supplied by increasing wages.

Slowed Population Growth and China’s Future Economy

Anthony Fensom wrote in the National Interest: Harvard Business Review contributors J. Stewart Black and Allen J. Morrison told the National Review;“If the current leadership composition continues, we predict that like Japanese firms before them, Chinese companies will begin to slide off the Global 500.” From having a demographic dividend from a rising working-age population, an economic model “grounded in the exploitation of inexhaustibly cheap labor” is fast running out of steam. [Source: Anthony Fensom, National Interest, September 16, 2019]

“Analysts at JPMorgan see China’s growth potential slowing to 5.5 percent from the current rate of 6.5 percent between 2021 and 2025, falling further to 4.5 percent by 2030, making it difficult for China to overtake the United States as the world’s biggest economy. “This means that China will remain the second-largest economy much longer than expected,” the analysts said. “China’s demographic contraction will reduce its GDP growth rate as well as its ability to fund its foreign ambitions such as the Belt and Road Initiative. The party’s social compact will also come under increasing pressure as economic growth eases and inequality rises. Meanwhile, the combined workforces of India, Indonesia and the United States are expected to keep expanding through at least 2060. A high birth rate and strong immigration levels should see the U.S. population increase from 324 million in 2017 to 390 million in 2050, while India’s population is seen overtaking China’s by 2027.

Government Action on Population Issues in China

Joe McDonald and Huizhong Wu of the Associated Press wrote: As China’s population growth falls closer to zero, Chinese leaders worry the number of working-age people is falling too fast, disrupting efforts to create a prosperous economy. They have eased birth limits, but couples are put off by high costs, cramped housing and job discrimination faced by mothers. China, along with Thailand and some other developing Asian countries that are aging fast, faces what economists call the challenge of whether it can grow rich before it grows old. [Source: Joe McDonald and Huizhong Wu, Associated Press, May 11, 2021]

A major theme of the 12th Five-Year Plan on Economic and Social Development released in March 2011 was boosting social-welfare benefits, including those for senior citizens. Yet, it is doubtful whether adequate resources can be provided particularly for old rural residents, who traditionally rely on their children and grandchildren to take care of post-retirement needs. [Source: Willy Lam, China Brief, Jamestown Foundation, May 6, 2011]

Already government officials are under intense pressure to come up with ways to encourage families to have more children to offset the shrinking of working-age population. A fast-ageing population will also pressure the government to pay pensions and provide health care to the elderly. In October 2015, China ended the one-child policy, allowing couples to have two children instead of one, at least in part to address population growth declines and boost the number of births. In 2016, China set a target of increasing its population to about 1.42 billion by 2020, from 1.34 billion in 2010. With the one-child policy eased, 17.9 million babies were born in 2016, an increase of 1.3 million over the previous year, but only half of what was expected. In 2017, the birth rate fell to 17.2 million, far below the official forecast of more than 20 million. [Source: VOA News, Wikipedia]

Chinese officials told Reuters that the government aims to create at least 10 million new urban jobs a year, even as the working age population shrinks. Joe McDonald and Huizhong Wu of the Associated Press wrote: The Chinese Communist Party “is making changes, but it isn’t clear whether any are big enough to ease strains on an underfunded retirement system.Chinese regulators talk about raising the official retirement age to increase the pool of workers. “Female professionals welcome a chance to stay in satisfying careers. But others resent being forced to work more years. And keeping workers on the job, unable to help look after children, might discourage their daughters from having more. [Source: Joe McDonald and Huizhong Wu, Associated Press, May 11, 2021; Reuters, May 17, 2021]

Anthony Fensom wrote in the National Interest: China’s National Health Commission is now working with other departments to “research and improve policies involving taxation, employment, social security and housing to support the implementation of the universal second-child policy,” China Daily noted. One such measure is a proposal to increase the retirement age from fifty-five to sixty for women and from sixty to sixty-five for men, bringing China more in line with international norms. “Local governments have also responded with subsidies, the extension of maternity leave and other initiatives including campaigns such as the “1,001 reasons to have a baby.” [Source: Anthony Fensom, National Interest, September 16, 2019]

"Yet as seen in the developed world, reversing a declining birth rate is extremely challenging, even with ultra family-friendly policies. A study by economist Lyman Stone found that even Nordic-style policies offering extensive family support have had little impact on long-term fertility, amid a declining fertility rate across advanced nations “nearly unmatched in its global breadth and its severity.” Welcoming more foreign workers, as Japan has done, or enhancing labor productivity are seen as two ways of compensating for a shrinking workforce. Yet Harvard Business Review contributors J. Stewart Black and Allen J. Morrison see plenty of headwinds, including declining productivity growth and a lack of openness to foreigners, including in major Chinese corporations.

Image Sources: Maps, University of Texas; People by Age Group, BBC

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2021

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