China will never suffer a labour shortage, says family planning official

As technology improves, workforce will become more productive despite a greying society, vice-minister says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 March, 2017, 5:13pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 March, 2017, 12:00am

China will not suffer labour shortages in the years ahead even though its society is rapidly ageing, according to a leading population official.

Wang Peian, vice-minister of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, forecast that China would still be a populous country at the end of this century and that a sufficient labour force “would not be a problem at all”.

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The quality, not quantity, of the workforce was what mattered, Wang said.

Speaking at a briefing on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress on Saturday, Wang said the population would peak at 1.45 billion in 2030, 1.4 billion in 2050 and more than 1.1 billion by the end of the century.

The labour force, or those aged 15 to 64, accounted for 73 per cent of the population in 2015 and would number 952 million in 2030 and 800 million in 2050.

“The labour forces of developed countries in the United States and Europe number only 730 million, but their productivity is higher. China does not suffer a labour shortage now and this will not be an issue later when improved technology and other alternative measures are in place,” Wang said.

“We should focus more on the structure of the population rather than its size,” he added.

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Faced with a greying society and shrinking labour force, Beijing partly relaxed its three-decade-long one-child policy in 2012 before allowing all couples to have a second child at the beginning of last year.

Some 18.5 million babies were born last year, the highest number since 2000, which brought the total fertility rate – or the average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime – to 1.7, its highest since 2000 but still below the ideal level for generation replacement.

Many women, however, are reluctant to have a second child for fear it will affect their career prospects or make it harder to find a job after giving birth, according to surveys conducted by the commission in 2013 and 2015.

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Couples must rely on their parents to care for the children because nurseries for under-three-year-olds were scarce.

Economic pressure was also a factor that made women reluctant to have children, Wang said, adding the reasons were echoed by surveys by two other government authorities.

There have been increasing calls for the authorities to recognise women’s concerns and map out plans to encourage births.

Earlier this month, Finance Minister Xiao Jie said that the government was considering tax deductions for school expenses in families with two children.

Wang said the family planning commission had proposed incentives including cash awards to encourage couples to have more children.