White paper on retirement age prompts fresh debate

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 September, 2010, 12:00am

The issue of the mainland's retirement age has resurfaced after a government white paper stated that there will be one pensioner for every two taxpayers by 2035, and that it was time to think critically about the ageing population.

The paper, released on September 10, triggered a debate over the possibility of raising the retirement age, currently 60 for men and 50 to 55 for women depending on the job sector.

Wang Xiaochu, human resources and social security vice-minister, reiterated last week there were no immediate plans to raise the retirement age. Wang also said 92 per cent of 200,000 respondents to an online survey by the ministry were against raising the retirement age.

A similar survey on Web portal qq.com had 115,000 people supporting later retirement and 1.15 million opposed as of Sunday evening.

The mainland has one of the world's youngest retirement ages, but despite the financial burden placed on younger generations, many are reluctant to see the age threshold raised, partly because they fear this will lead to fewer employment opportunities for them.

Although three million people retire across the mainland every year, there are another 10 million entering the urban workforce.

A later retirement age would reduce immediate opportunities for new city workers, especially recent graduates, who are already struggling to compete with an increasing number of their peers entering the workforce every year. Some 6.3 million new graduates were expected to join the workforce this year.

Employment challenges are 'very severe', Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security spokesman Yin Chengji said after the white paper was released. According to the ministry's figures, around 24 million people across the mainland will have looked for work this year, with only half that number of openings available.

Despite the concern surrounding limited employment opportunities, an increase in the retirement age will soon be inevitable.

'China is an ageing society,' said Professor Yang Yansui , director of Tsinghua University's Research Centre of Employment and Social Security. 'From 2015 onwards, the Chinese labour population will start decreasing, so the Chinese government really needs to address the problem of retirement and find a solution in the next five years.'

Yang spoke of 2035 as a crisis point, when 810 million workers will be supporting 294 million pensioners aged 65 and older. The one-child policy is further exacerbating the country's age ratio, and because of a rising standard of living, life expectancy has risen to 73 years.

'For the past few years, the government has been carefully discussing the issue,' Yang said. 'They want to increase it, but when it comes into the public forum, it becomes a hot topic, and everyone is concerned about the repercussions.'

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Researchers project that by 2035 the number of pensioners aged 65 and older will have risen to: 294m