China recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of its one child policy. The country announced plans to ease down on the birth restrictions, allowing some couples a second child – in certain ‘test provinces’. The Chinese grow old. Or so they think.
The one child policy has never been as stringent for the country as a whole. People in remote areas were mostly unrestricted, as were couples that were single children themselves. All in all a little over one third of the Chinese are subject to the policy. Over the course of its implementation the net population was allowed to grow from 1 to 1.3 billion people – and is expected to reach 1.4 billion within a decade. It did however not miss its desired effect: slowing down the growth. (According to a 2006 study of the University of Geneva the Chinese one-child policy prevented ‘several millions’ of births since 1979.)
Solving the one demographic problem came at the cost of another – or two. An ever increasing population is a sustainabiliy problem in itself, worsening environmental problems en dissolving wealth. If unabated, the problem grows worse. China might never have escaped the development status. The price however, the one that for instance India is unwilling to pay, is missed workforce. And, Japan, China, welcome to the West, an ageing population.
According to the Office of the China National Committee on Ageing, the number of people aged 60 or over stood at 167 million in 2009, or 12.5 percent of the 1.3-billion-strong population.
In Japan that percentage is almost twice as high – and forecast to double in the next decades.
(c) Rolf Schuttenhelm | www.bitsofscience.org