People older than 60 made up nearly one-fifth of China’s population at the end of 2017, a statistic accelerated by the country’s decades-old family planning policy that prevented nearly 400 million births, said Chinese demographers.
The number of people aged 60 or older in China hit 241 million at the end of 2017, or 17.3 percent of the country’s population, according to data published on the Ministry of Civil Affairs website.
That number is expected to peak at 487 million around 2050 to form 34.9 percent of the population, according to the Office of the National Working Commission on Aging.
China’s aging society resulted from increased life expectancy and a decreased fertility rate, Zhai Zhenwu, president of the School of Sociology and Population Studies at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Sunday.
Life expectancy on the Chinese mainland rose from 66 in 1979 to 76 in 2016, according to World Bank data.
The country recorded 17.23 million births last year, or 630,000 fewer than that of 2016. Births in the first half of 2018 were at least 15 percent fewer than the same period of 2017.
China’s family planning policy sped up the process and the result is “irreversible,” Zhai said.
“Even if China abolished the family planning policy or enhanced efforts to boost fertility, the effect would be very limited on easing the pressure brought on by this aging society.”
The fresh data arrives amid State media and societal debate about whether the challenges of an aging society should be addressed by a shift in policy from restricting births to enforcing more children.
On Tuesday, two Chinese scholars proposed salary deductions for all under-40s to subsidize families with two children.
The proposal included establishing a fertility fund where citizens under 40 would be required to annually contribute until they had two children.
Outraged internet users suggested that fines amassed from violators of family planning policies should instead be spent on the elderly.
China has collected about 25 billion yuan ($3.6 billion) in these annual “social maintenance fees,” yicai.com reported in 2016. However, media reports show that some of the fees were used to pay insurance for health officials in some places.
Carrots and sticks should not be the focus of family planning policies, Li Yinhe, China’s most renowned sexologist, told the Global Times on Sunday.
“The traditional idea that regards more children as a fortune for a family has made many panic about the low fertility rate, when it is actually a natural trend in a country’s modernization and urbanization,” Li said.
The low rate was not necessarily a bad thing as the government could focus more on policies that ensure individual quality of life, said Li.
Introduced in 1979, China’s “one-child” policy was implemented for more than 30 years and averted an estimated 400 million births, news site zjol.com.cn reported.
— Global Times
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— The Daily Mail - People's Daily