Greying society makes one-child rule look pass

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 May, 2011, 12:00am


The National Bureau of Statistics released the key findings of the 2010 census, revealing a big drop in the number of young people and a rapidly ageing population.

Researchers and commentators are divided as to whether this requires a change in family planning policy, especially the one-child policy for urban households.

The 21st Century Business Herald said some researchers had called for a swift change- to allow, if not to encourage, families to have a second child. Only in this way could the ageing of the population be kept under control, these researchers argued. But others, it said, advocated a more gradual approach. The two demography researchers who were invited to a Politburo meeting to preview the census results both belonged to the second group, the newspaper said.

According to Wang Jinying of Hebei University's institute of demography, the number of people of working age would peak in 2015 and proportionally this group would begin shrinking by 2017. Most researchers believed strictly enforced family planning policies would cease being of economic benefit within a few years, Wang said.

For Feng Wang, a demographer with the Brookings-Tsinghua Centre for Public Policy, those benefits would start waning by 2013. In a recent paper, he pointed out that the proportion of people aged 20 to 29 had fallen 15 per cent since 2000 and would fall another 20 per cent in the next two decades. Major policy adjustments were needed in the next two years to adapt to the greying of the population, Feng argued.

Cai Fang, director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' institute of demography, was recently quoted as saying the days of cheap labour were over and the mainland's 'population dividend' would soon become a 'population debt'. New policies were needed urgently to confront the new realities, Cai said.

Anbound, a macroeconomics research consultancy, said that from now on, the prime focus of economic policy should be on the greying phenomenon.

The census shows the trend of migration towards the more industrialised coastal areas is stronger than ever, something Ma Jiantang , commissioner of the National Bureau of Statistics, calls a healthy development that will be the driving force of China's growth.

Guangdong is the place migrants most want to move to, and consequently it has eclipsed Henan as the most populous province, with 104 million people.

Another coastal province, Shandong, ranks second with a population of 95 million. Landlocked Henan has 94 million.

Why the change and what was its significance for policymaking, asked a commentary on, a web portal based in Hunan. Commentator Wang Ziming noted that, even with so many migrant workers, Guangdong still frequently reported a shortage of labour. The coastal provinces could easily see an outflow of migrant workers if they did not enjoy enough openness and equality, he said. With the migrant population now more than 200 million strong, every city government needed to focus on their needs.

Lu Jiehua, a professor of sociology at Peking University, noted that because of the rigid household registration system, even in Guangdong, most migrant workers still could not enjoy the same rights and same social welfare terms as the native residents.

It was high time, Lu said, that the government quickened the reform of the system and made it a policy priority to protect migrant workers' rights to social security, education and housing.