December 26, 2015


The great graying of China: Why the new two-child policy is too little, too late : China is about to get old, fast. (Mei Fong, December 24, 2015, Quartz)

In China, the aging transition will happen in just one generation, and the cupboard is woefully bare.
At least in the West, this transition took over 50 years to take shape. Consequently, countries there have had more time to stock up for the gray years ahead, both economically and socially. (Some might argue that even these preparations are inadequate.) In China, the aging transition will happen in just one generation, and the cupboard is woefully bare.

Other side effects of China's one-child policy are still in the realm of speculation. The policy has has created a gender imbalance, which some academics suggest could make China more warlike or unstable--but such a result is far from certain. The one-child policy has also created a cohort of "Little Emperors"--single children--which various social studies suggest has created a generation of pessimistic, solipsistic low-risk takers that could potentially dampen China's economic dynamism. But again, this is unproven.

What is certain is, short of some cataclysmic plague or war, is that China's vast cohort of workers will grow old. Right now, if you were to stroll through urban parks in China, you might well conclude that aging in the country is a pleasant affair. China has one of the earliest retirement ages in the world--as early as 55 years old for women, and 60 for men. As a result, China's parks are filled with vigorous pensioners engaged in picturesque activities: dancing, tai chi, sword fighting, kite flying, and, my particular favorite, a form of geriatric graffiti that involves tracing Chinese calligraphy on pavements using water and brushes, which dry and leave no trace. Public spaces are filled with irrepressible "dancing grannies" who fill the air with music from huge boom-boxes. IKEA cafeterias have become a hot singles scene for the over-sixty set.

But this lifestyle may soon change. There are two things that help make old age more tolerable. The first is money, which pays for comforts, medical treatments and necessities at a time when people can no longer work. The second is family, or family substitutes, for emotional support as well as physical care. In China's future, both will be hard to achieve in adequate amounts.

Posted by at December 26, 2015 8:19 AM