The Demographic Implications of China’s One Child Policy

“But social experiments always have unintended consequences. In the case of China’s One Child Policy, these consequences are now becoming evident, and are no less breathtaking in scale than the dreams entertained by the coercive visionaries in Beijing who set this scheme in motion. Inexorably—and by now inescapably—a host of new and unfamiliar demographic problems have arisen, all of which will plague China’s next generation. These problems will compromise economic development, strain social harmony and place the traditional Chinese family structure under severe pressure; in fact, they could shake Chinese civilization to its very foundations.”

The above comes from a wonderfully thought provoking article on China in the Far Eastern Economic Review by Nicholas Eberstadt. The data and the implications to China are damning. First their workforce is going to age rapidly:

“According to the UNPD’s projections, China’s 65-plus age group currently numbers around 110 million. Over the coming generation, this group is set to rise to 280 million—growing at a pace of almost 3.8% per annum. By 2035, nearly one in five Chinese will be 65 or older, constituting a staggering 280 million senior citizens.”

And the amount of 15-29 year olds as a percentage of the population is plunging:

“In 1985, 15- to 29-year-olds accounted for 47% of China’s working age population. Today that proportion is down to about 34% of the workforce. By Census Bureau projections, 20 years from now it will have fallen to just barely 26% of China’s conventionally defined labor force.”

But even worse is that the China One Child Policy has caused the Chinese to abort daughters and try as hard as possible to only have boys. This is resulting is a surge of unmarried men as the number of men dramatically outnumber women:

“Today, roughly 5% of Chinese men in their late 30s have never married. By 2020, that fraction could exceed 15%, and may reach 25% by 2040. The situation will be more extreme in the countryside, since rural men are more likely to lose out to more affluent and educated urban suitors in the national marriage race. By these same calculations, in 2020 about 20% of China’s rural men between the ages of 35 to 44 will never have taken a bride, and the proportion rises above 30% by 2040.”

And the author asks this very scary question:

“How will Chinese government and society function in the face of this rising tide of unmarriageable young men, an able-bodied but very likely disaffected cadre drawn disproportionately from the countryside and the urban poor?”

Here is the link to this must read article and hat tip to Paul Kedrosky for finding it: Demographics of China’s One Child Policy