Extending China’s legal retirement age will keep more people employed longer as society ages, but a number of Chinese workers are worried that it might exacerbate discrimination in the job market. After years of discussions, Beijing announced in its new five-year plan (2021-25) that it will “gradually” increase the nation’s mandatory retirement ages that have been unchanged for 70 years, as China’s population crisis looms larger every year. By law, Chinese men retire at age 60 while women generally retire at 50, except for female officials who may work for five more years. How much the retirement age should be extended is still up for debate, but deep-seated discrimination in China’s labour market – on the basis of gender, age and education – has led many to believe that postponing retirement could make searching for a job even more difficult. Liu Wendi, a 39-year-old operations manager at an office rental company in Shenzhen, said her job-related anxiety spiked after she turned 35 – an invisible barrier at which Chinese employers start to think twice about the abilities of their workers and job applicants, particularly in fast-paced industries involving the internet and finance. Coronavirus leaves China’s over-35s with uncertain job prospects Since she is working in the service industry , Liu said her job requires her to look young and beautiful in the office. She has spent a lot of money on beauty treatments and new clothes to stay “competitive” as she nears her forties. Postponing retirement would only make the situation more dire, she said, as it could result in even worse age discrimination in the workplace. “If the retirement age is pushed back to 60, I think that by the time I’m 45, or even before that, I won’t be able to continue working in this industry or in this position,” Liu said. “What private company doesn’t want their employees to be young and motivated, with a small family burden, and to work overtime – to maximise their value? “Delaying retirement won’t make the workplace friendlier to people in their forties and fifties. I can foresee that it will be a tough period for those between the ages of 50 and 60: no pension, with our income falling sharply and becoming increasingly unstable. We would be able to do only some service jobs, mostly part-time. “Because of declining health, the unemployment rate for those over the age of 50 will definitely be the highest.” It feels like there will be a lot of uncertainties and risks in our life when we are old Fu Meng, human resources manager Fu Meng, a 46-year-old human resources manager at a European chemical manufacturer, echoed Liu’s view that more older workers could become relegated to a limited number of professions. “There will be 50-year-old jobseekers entering the service industry as restaurant waiters and security guards,” Fu said. “In China’s labour market, except for state-owned enterprises, there are already too few openings for people over 50. “Even for experienced professionals like us, we are very worried about delaying the retirement age, because after 50 it is difficult to work in the positions that you are in now,” Fu said of herself and her colleagues. “As a white-collar worker, we cannot accept that we will have to enter the service industry. Many people may use their savings to open a small shop, but it feels like there will be a lot of uncertainties and risks in our life when we are old.” Fu added that the average age of new hires at her company was now 30, and that the age range was 30-35 for middle management and 40 for senior management. “We have a lot of candidates to choose from,” she said. “There is no chance that our positions would be open for older applicants.” China jobs market still seen as weak, unstable even as unemployment rate returns to pre-coronavirus level At the same time, competition for jobs among new graduates is increasing every year. In February, the official unemployment rate for workers between the ages of 16 and 24 was 13 per cent, much higher than the national unemployment rate of 5.5 per cent, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics. In a new survey conducted earlier this month by Zhaopin, a leading Chinese job portal, three out of four people said they had encountered discrimination when looking for jobs, with their education background and age identified as the top two areas of bias, followed by marital status and gender. In addition, nearly 30 per cent of those surveyed worried that postponing retirement would adversely affect young people’s employment chances, and close to half of the respondents called for flexible retirement plans for individuals in different jobs. A heated debate over the government’s plan to delay the retirement age is prevalent on Chinese social media. Some netizens argue that the only people who will benefit from delayed retirement will be those in civil service roles, whose recruitment has favoured those younger than 35 and has been characterised as being biased against women in recent years. Helen Tang, a researcher with Workplace Gender Equality Watch – an online community tracking job postings that discriminate against female applicants – said her organisation wants to see the retirement age made the same for men and women. “But only on the condition that men and women get equal pay for equal work, otherwise it will indeed increase inequality,” Tang said. “We found that many men and women face different age requirements for job openings [usually women need to be younger], because men and women have different retirement ages.” However, not everyone is pessimistic about an older retirement age. Luo Aiping, a 44-year-old lawyer in Guangzhou, said postponing retirement may be acceptable for some lawyers older than 50, because their contacts within the government will retire later, meaning older lawyers would continue to have clients to work for. “On the other hand, of course, if the whole pool is bigger, the competition will increase,” Luo said.