China’s Demographic Roller Coaster to Peak by 2030

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 3:20
Posted in category Uncategorized

A couple weeks back I attended a FCC meeting (Note: FCC has some of the best speaking events in China.. on China) where a UC Irvine/ Fudan professor of Sociology spoke of the issues of China’s population.

It was billed primarily as a “One Child China” speech, but in reality it went far deeper as the professor spoke of the population explosion that kicked off the policy, and the fact that even though there was no formal policy until much later (the 2004 population law), this “piolicy” was enforced from 1980 on … with few questions.

More important for those of us living in today’s China though is that the buldge that was the 1960s and 1970s population boom is not getting older, and in another 20 years, China’s population could look drastically different. It was a policy that was supposed to only be in place for 25-30 years, as a measure to balance the population, but with a current population of 1.4 billion Chinese, there is a reluctance to open the policy up for fear of another boom.

Which leaves China to manage an interesting set of dynamics.  First, China is greying, and in another 20-25 years, an inversion will occur when the baby boomer and Gen Xers start to move past their 60s.  It is a dynamic that is dangerous because of two underlying conditions (1) boy to girl ratio since 1980 is 120 to 100, when it would be 106 to 100 naturally and (2) Chinese replacement rate is less that 1.8, potentially 1.2, and to keep the same population it needs 2.1.

In real terms what this means (or could potentially mean) is that China’s population will not only get older, and there be a risk of instability when no one can support them, but that the population itself could drop.. fast.. he mentioned one scenario where China could fall to half its current population (assuming a birth rate of 1.2) in 30 years.

It was a presentation that sparked/ reignited a number of things  for me, and I hope to pass onto the student groups, and as a consultant working with firms…. I can think of fewer long term strategic issues that should be planned for.  That, right now, everyone has business plans banking on China’s domestic market, but within 30 years this market is going to radically alter.  that, whereas secretaries of today may be willing to buy a new mobile phone each year, in 20 years (when they are taking care of 2 parents/ 4 grandparent/ 1 kid) the constraints for consumerism will be radically different.

For more on this, here are a few other pieces I have written on the issue:
Penetrating China’s Gray Market
Map: China Graying
50% of China’s Elderly Live Alone
Going Big on Going Gray

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8 Responses to “China’s Demographic Roller Coaster to Peak by 2030”

  1. Anders says:

    September 15th, 2009 at 5:37 am

    “boy to girl ratio since 1980 is 120 to 100”.

    This one could be disputed, as there is a very large unknown female population in the county side without hukou, that have been tucked away. One can still live in China without a hukou or a shenfenzheng especially outside the big cities.

  2. Rich says:

    September 15th, 2009 at 7:06 am


    Honestly, this is the one flaw (albeit a major one) in the system.. 2nd and 3rd children.

    When speaking about the data collection methods, it was pretty clear that the same people who were responsible for counting kids via the census were also the same people who were supposed to be limiting families to 1 child.

    So, you are right in that it could very well be a different ratio, and were you to suggest that the total population were actually higher… it is a case that others would certainly back you on


  3. Edward says:

    September 15th, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    What specific problems will arise? What are some solutions?

  4. Rich says:

    September 16th, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Hi Edward.

    Going to have to point you back to the posts that I have linked to.. In each of those, I think a fair amount of issues/ solutions have been highlighted.

    However, a few interesting things that I have seen lately are related to lifestyle services and quality of life for those who are over 60.. and those who have limited mobility. several years back I worked with one of the districts on a “Meals on Wheels” feasibility, and while the program requirements were huge, it is interesting to see how it is progressing.. and how other programs are able to dovetail.


  5. Edward says:

    September 16th, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    Hey Rich,

    Nice. I didn’t get a chance to sift through those links but I definitely will. As for the ‘meals on wheels’ what kind of obstacles are there?


  6. China’s population…. whimper « Beats and Pieces says:

    September 16th, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    […] which I consider crucial is demographics and the post below is useful in reminding in us that not all is necessarily well in the Kingdom: More important … though is that the bulge that was the 1960s and 1970s population boom is […]

  7. Rich says:

    September 16th, 2009 at 10:45 pm


    Primary obstacles to meal of wheels were logistical and regulatory. You have large numbers of people who are living by themselves at an advanced age and are in need, and that presents a number of challenges.

    When looking into just one neighborhood, we found that a single center was able tto deliver 150 meals in 1 hour using 2 people on bicycles. In the US, that would take 4-5 people in cars. however, to scale that up would require significant investment in equipment and people.

    Operationally, then you also have the regulations surrounding food delivery, the risks of food quality, and the need to develop a menu of items that could be chosen.

    Service wise, you then need to think about training staff. Staff who are going to be delivering meals are the window into many of these homes, and would need to be trained to look out for certain things -apartment condition, physical health, mental awareness, etc..

    A lot of things to consider.


  8. Silk Road International Blog » Some Quick Numbers in China says:

    September 17th, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    […] the central government is putting out, show that China is going to have a very different set of demographics in just 20 to 30 years.  And, as the comments point out, there are significant questions about the accuracy of the […]