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Financial Times: The Ghost at China’s Third Plenum: Demographics

Author: David Pilling
November 6, 2013


"It is hard to overstate how fast China is ageing. Life expectancy has more than doubled from 35 in 1949 to 75 today, a miraculous achievement. Meanwhile, the fertility rate has plummeted to 1.5 or lower, far below the 2.1 needed to keep a population stable. Cai Fang, a demographer at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says the country will have moved from labour surplus to labour shortage at the fastest pace in history."

As the leaders of China's standing committee (average age 65) prepare for one of the Chinese Communist party's most important occasions, one issue will be hidden in plain view: the country is rapidly growing old.

President Xi Jinping, a sprightly 60, is only up to the third plenum of his leadership, an event at which he is expected to set out long-term plans for the country. But the nation as a whole is fast approaching the sixth age of man. In Shakespeare's version, the fifth stage of human life is a well-fed individual with "a round belly" full of chicken. Unfortunately, China is moving "into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon" of old age before most of its people have grown wealthy. Its average standard of living is somewhere between those of Ecuador and Jamaica.

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