Life in China’s oldest county exposes challenges of demographic crisis (

Life in China’s oldest county exposes challenges of demographic crisis


Many are subsidising fertility assistance programmes such as in vitro fertilisation under national insurance programmes.

But analysts question if piecemeal initiatives will be enough to protect Chinas economy from the demographic decline, which some anticipate could reduce gross domestic product growth by one percentage point a year until 2035.

At the current rate, China will have only one worker for every retiree by the centurys end, compared with four today, said Bert Hofman, director of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore.

To offset this, the government needs to gradually incentivise people to work beyond the current retirement age, which is 50 for women and 60 for men, and to encourage further migration of its stilllarge rural population to more productive urban jobs, according to Hofman.

Policymakers also need to expand private pensions and upgrade the health sector. You need a comprehensive reform package that brings all these things together, Hofman said.

Until such reforms are realised, semirural counties such as Rudong will struggle to care for their elderly.

Entrepreneur Wu said her Huayuantouju Elderly Care Home stayed afloat by attracting residents from surrounding cities such as Shanghai and Nanjing who have bigger pensions.

Showing visitors around the home, whose modest rooms are decorated with portraits of President Xi and first lady Peng Liyuan, Wu said she wanted to build an extension on a neighbouring piece of farmland. Theres no shortage of demand, said Wu.

Still, even her business is struggling to operate because of staff shortages caused by the demographic decline. Its too low a job for young people these days to help old people take a bath, she said.

He stressed the partys new motto of highquality development of the population, which underlines the need for better childcare and education and lowering the burden of raising families.

What you see in Rudong is only the beginning, said Huang Wenzheng, a senior fellow at the Center for China and Globalization. Rudong may one day become a ghost city.

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When the onechild policy was introduced, people hoped it would help alleviate poverty in Rudongs densely packed village houses by reducing the number of mouths to feed.

Nobody had anything to eat in the 1960s, said Wu Aiping, an entrepreneur who runs another aged care facility, the Huayuantouju Elderly Care Home, in Rudong.

Over time, the onechild policy took root and family size declined.

Nearly 60 years later, it is the countrys oldest county nearly 39 per cent of its population is aged over 60, more than double the national figure of 18.7 per cent.

As a result, schools have closed and the countys cotton and rice farms struggle to find workers, while the elderly population subsists on often paltry pensions.

Rudongs predicament offers a preview of Chinas demographic challenge, which in its scale and speed promises to eclipse similar crises in other countries such as Japan and Italy.


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