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Svetlana Kozhirova. Demographic policy of China at the present stage: status, problems and prospects

In 2017, the population of China amounted to 1,378 billion people. PRC has developed the maximum rate for many years; the birth rate greatly exceeded the death rate. China has taken some measures to normalize the total population. In 1979, China introduced the principle of “one family – one child”, because it became obvious that a large population needs more resources. In case of violation of this rule, the parents must pay a large fine, and were subjected to other serious penalties, including dismissal from the civil service and exclusion from the ranks of the Communist party of China (CPC).

Due to this law the growth of China’s population stopped, but for the same reason, the country has become an aging nation. 70% of China’s populations are of working age. About 17% are infants and persons under 15 years of age. The rest of the population refers to the pensioners and elderly people. At the same time the percentage of the male population is higher than female – 706 million men and 620 million women live in the country. For one day in China about 40,000 babies are born. For the full year, the number of newborns increases to 8-9 million babies [1].

The policy of restricting the birth rate and the consequent demographic falling has contributed to the rapid economic growth of China. The labor market was replenished with young women who were not occupied with birth and upbringing of children. For the maintenance of single-child families have had fewer resources than large families. Requirements for higher wages were not exacerbated, the labor remained cheap. The state was freed from the obligation to care for the education and employment of second and following children. As a result, a high share of savings and investments became possible. China has a unique situation where children were already few, and the old – even less. Therefore, it is not strange that the demographic burden and GDP growth went almost synchronously [2].

In 2013, the Chinese authorities have reduced the current policy of “one family – one child”. Chinese families were allowed to have two children, if both parents are the only ones in their family. Later, the family policy was further relaxed – the right to have a second child already received those families, in which one of the parents had no siblings. While in 2014, less than 1 mln Chinese family couples applied for the birth of a second child, which was a half of the amount predicted [3]. According to preliminary estimates, about 90 mln families fall under the “two-child policy” that will increase the population to 1.45 billion people by 2030 (at the end of 2014 was 1.37 billion people). Thus, no population explosion or predicted by some analysts the unprecedented migration pressure from China to close and distant countries is not expected [4].

Changes in the demographic structure indicate that the methods of development of the Chinese economy and social model will undergo great changes. The modern demographic strategy and new policy in this area allows bringing its demographic indicators in line with the model of the country’s socioeconomic development, to strengthen the advantages of national development, to maintain regular socio-economic breakthrough and to achieve successful building a moderately prosperous society.


The demographic crisis

One of the major problems of modern China is population aging. The most rapid rate of population aging is seen in Shanghai, Beijing, as well as in the provinces of Henan and Sichuan. According to the statistics of Family Planning Commission, in 2014 the number of people over 60 years in China reached 15.5% of all population, compared to 13.3% in 2010. In addition, there is a decline in working-age people in China. The birth rate in the country is 1,181, it means the number of the next generation will be reduced by 45% and the subsequent one – 70% (almost half less than the world average). At the same time just to replace generations, with no population growth, it should be at 2.15. At first, there will be noticeably fewer children, and then an adult able-bodied population.

Analyzing the results of the 2010 China population census, the experts came to the conclusion that in 2018 the number of young people aged 18 to 22 years in China will decline by 55.6% compared to 2008. This will entail a mass closure of schools and universities. Chinese experts warn that the aging population and shrinking workforce can have a serious impact on the national economy. The simultaneous decline in consumption and demand may begin, as a result of which the economy will lose its driving force.

Demographer Yao Mason predicts that in 2021 China will increase the imbalance between younger and older people; the workforce crisis will begin, the gender imbalance will exacerbate and serious problems associated with the maintenance of pensioners will start. Currently, 14.9% of Chinese citizens are pensioners older than 60 years. According to forecasts, in 2020 the number will reach 19.3%, and in 2050 – 38.6%. During this period, the number of able-bodied people will be significantly reduced [5]. Recall that the nation with more than 10% of the population older than 60 years, is considered to be “aging” in conformity with UN documents. China in the second half of the XXI century will be “the oldest” country in the world.

Such a demographic situation raises complex economic, sociocultural, and sociopsychological problems. For the first time in China there was such an undesirable age structure of the population. The state seeks to provide a calm and comfortable old age of the citizens of the PRC. In most provinces, autonomous regions and cities of the central government was established a network of nursing homes. Local authorities in caring for pensioners, try not to isolate them from society. They involve retirees in community service activities. For the elderly, a number of companies “with a facilitated mode production” have been established. In addition, the pensioners take part in the maintenance of public order and the upbringing of the younger generation.


Policy of removal of birth control

29th of October, 2015, in Beijing 5th Plenary Session of 18th CPC Central Committee  concluded its work. Plenum communiqué became headline news in China: the country declared policy of encouraging two children in the family. January 1, 2016, this law came into force. This will allow increasing the number of people of working age in China by 30 million people by 2050. Chinese President Xi Jinping believes that the lifting of the ban on a second child in China will help to deal with the problem of an aging population and increase labor force.

According to the Deputy Chairman of the State Committee for Health and the Family Planning of the PRC Wang Payan, the policy that gives the right to citizens to have a second child, is being implemented according to plan. The official noted that during the period of a new demographic policy almost 18.5 million children were born in the country. While Wang Payan does not deny that during the implementation of the new policy the government has faced significant challenges. According to Wang Payan, the authorities register the cases, when women do not give birth to a second child because of fear of not returning to work and being destitute. Furthermore, in education there is a shortage of finance for pre-school institutions for children under 3 years old. Wang Payan emphasized that China seeks to create a favorable social environment for families to have a second child. The maintenance of the required level of fertility will be followed by the improvement of fiscal policy, social welfare policy, provision of housing, employment assistance policies [6].

The transition to a market economy and the policy of openness has led to the transformation of not only the family relations (the increase in the number of divorces, the growing number of single people and one-child families, nuclear families, the prevalence of extramarital affairs), but also the changing relationships in the family. There is a shift from patrilineality to belineality family and kinship relations. Patrilocal settlement of the spouses is no longer required. Increased status of women, especially in urban families; daughters inherit the property of parents. Many couples reject the traditional views, according to which, the more children (mostly boys) is better. According to statistics, over 80% of residents in Chinese cities do not want to have a large family and do not prefer a particular sex of the child [7].

Experts of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences noted that in many areas of China there is a “relatively low” desire of young people born after the 1980s to have children. During the year of the new policy allowing bearing a second child to spouses, who are the only children in the family, only 13% of families filed applications for the birth of children [8].


Problems of internal migration

Recently, in the demographic sphere there is another difficult problem – a huge mass of migrating population. This problem is connected with agrarian reform. The transition to the system of family contracting responsibility freed a significant number of farmers. The majority of farmers settled in the local county, not the township enterprises, which are developing rapidly in rural areas, while the remainder moved to cities in search of work on construction sites, industrial enterprises in the service sector.

The influx of migrants turns into a plethora of trouble for the city authorities: the already strained situation on public transport and public health is exacerbated. Experts predict that by 2050 the number of migrants will reach 350 million people compared with 211 million in 2015 [9].

Officials believe that internal migration is a negative trend. The majority of people who are involved in this process – people at the age of 27 years, came from the provinces. They do not have higher education (most of them had finished only secondary school), are deprived of any benefits and therefore agree to any work for any money.

To improve the situation, the authorities outlined a number of measures:

–  development of not only large, but also medium and small towns and townships;

– improvement of the congestion of cities, the attraction of additional labor force in villages, towns and municipalities;

– improvement of financial and tax systems, structure of land turnover, administrative management and municipal services, the management of migration flows;

– the gradual establishment of a unified urban and rural labor market, the introduction of a competitive system of employment and etc.

The migration of the rural population satisfied the demand of cities for labor force, mainly in the construction industry. However, the rural migrants were mostly heavy, low-paid jobs. Peasants have the right to enter into employment contracts only for a certain period and therefore deprived of many material and social benefits.

The negative consequences of internal migration in China include the increased burden on infrastructure and the growth of crime. Ensuring rural workforce housing, medical care, and construction of additional facilities for sanitary purposes, water supply, and electricity – all this is a formidable task.

The growth rate of the number of migrant workers with rural residence is declining for the fourth year in a row, and their average age also increasing. According to preliminary calculations, the rural surplus labor force will soon disappear, and with it the demographic advantage of China will disappear. There is also the phenomenon of the so-called “authorized” migration, or internal migration, which was planned by the leadership of the country. One example of such actions can be called the colonization of the Western regions of China by residents from other provinces (mainly Han Chinese).


Conclusions and generalizations

First. The demographic processes in modern China are characterized by aging populations, falling birth rate and a significant increase in internal migration. Therefore, the main task of the demographic policy today is to maintain a stable demographic environment for further development of the country.

Second. China has entered a period of labor shortage; the reason for this was a change of the population structure, the increase in the imbalance between the young and the elderly, the growth gender imbalance, the policy of planned births.

Third. The main source of labor supply needed for economic development cities are migrant workers with rural residence permit. The ratio between demand and supply of labor is changing, the basic salary is constantly increasing. The increase in labor costs may reduce the competitiveness of Chinese goods on the world market.

In the long term, China will be forced to shift from bringing unskilled labour from the village to increase productivity, including in agriculture, to transit from extensive to intensive forms of production development.

Fourth. The workforce crisis is fraught with serious problems associated with retirees. The situation is compounded by the fact that China does not have a universal pension system. Although China has a number of pension insurance programs, and the coverage of these programs grows, until a complete solution is still far away. Today in China there are three subsystems of pension: mandatory pension insurance, state pension and rural pension insurance. The development of these types of insurance is varying. Together, they are of great importance to maintain social stability and economic development of China, working on improving the live standards of the elderly population.


[1] Население Китая на 2017 год составляет… //http://russinfo.net/otdyh/naselenie-zemli/naselenie-kitaya-na-2017-god-sostavlyaet.html.

[2] Андреев Е. Удвоение Китая: чем обернется отмена правила «одна семья — один ребенок» http://www.rbc.ru/opinions/society/11/11/2015/5642d7709a794773d004037d.

[3] Китай в 2016 году поставил рекорд рождаемости. http://www.newsru.com/world/23jan2017/china.html

[4] Денисов И. Уроки политической демографии. Что значит отказ Китая от ограничения рождаемостиhttp://globalaffairs.ru/number/Uroki-politicheskoi-demografii-17844

[5] Китаю угрожает демографическая катастрофа. http://www.demoscope.ru/weekly/2016/0689/gazeta013.php

[6]Новая демографическая политика Китая: первые итоги. http://www.kremlinrus.ru/news/164/64459/

[7]Угрожает ли Китай своим соседям «демографической агрессией» http://mk-kz.kz/articles/2017/04/12/ugrozhaet-li-kitay-svoim-sosedyam-demograficheskoy-agressiey.html

[8] Китаю угрожает демографический кризис. http://inosmi.ru/world/20151005/230642230.html

[9] Миграция в Китае. http://www.chinamodern.ru/?p=880