Monday, July 03, 2006

Aged P

When I first came to Shanghai, I can remember wandering the streets about 3pm and looking around to see many older people picking children up from school or kindergarten, walking with the kids down the streets, or carrying them in child seats on the backs of their bicycles.

I thought to myself- "Shanghai has a lot of seriously old parents!"

Of course I quickly realised these "old parents" are the children's grandparents, and one of the few positive results of the one child policy: many children have four retired grandparents to look after them while their parents are at work.

However, more commonly the one child policy has many more drawbacks. We have known about the growing imbalance of the sexes, and the abandonment of girl babies, for years. One more emerging drawback is the effect the aging population will have on industry in the near future. The following was in "The Times of India" this weekend (thanks to Phil for passing it on to me)

SHANGHAI: Shanghai is rightfully known as a fast-moving, hypermodern city - full of youth and vigour. But that obscures a less well-known fact: Shanghai has the oldest population in China, and it is getting older in a hurry.

Twenty per cent of this city's people are at least 60... By 2020 about a third of Shanghai's population, currently 13.6 million, will consist of people over the age of 59.

As workers become scarcer and more expensive in the increasingly affluent cities along China's eastern seaboard, the country will face growing economic pressures to move out of assembly work and other labour-intensive manufacturing, which will be taken up by poorer economies in Asia and beyond, and into service and information-based industries.

"With the working-age population decreasing, our labour costs will become less competitive, and industries in places like Vietnam and Bangladesh will start becoming more attractive," said Zuo Xuejin, vice president of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

-NYT News Service

The one-child policy does not stop the rich from having more than one child, they just have to pay extreme amounts of taxes for their second child. In fact, many of the richer people in Shanghai society are indeed having two children, and flaunting it as somewhat of a status symbol. My students simply cannot believe that the Australian government actually pays us to have children, instead of us paying them for the privilege.

The Chinese government has recently declared that when both the man and wife have no siblings (i.e. a couple consisting of two 'only-child' parents) they may have two children, as a strategy to overcome the issues of one person being unable to financially support two parents and four grandparents as the population ages. Part of me wonders if this will factor into the Shanghai peoples' already rather picky criteria for a suitable marriage. "I'm sorry darling, this just isn't going to work out. I think we should see other people. No, no, it's not you... it's your sister..."

There are very interesting times ahead for China.


verniciousknids said...

Japan is facing a declining birth rate crisis so there are constant task forces focussing on how to cope with this. The obvious solution - allow more immigration - is not the solution they want!

Maybe they should organise a swap with China?! Ha ha.

Louise said...

The problem is that both China and Japan only have the older people to spare, which isn't so great for the economy. I agree with you, imigration would be a good idea, but very few foreigners want to move to China permanantly, though we all have to pay tax while we're here.

Jeanne said...

I love to read your posts.
We have two children who live in Asia and they are here in Canada visiting us right now.
We are in our glory to say the least.
They love to travel as you do.

Louise said...

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder... I don't know if that is possible, but spending time apart sure does make you appreciate the time you do have together.

Enjoy your time with your children, Jeanne, although I'm sure you will!