Young Urban Women in China Opting Out of Marriage

Crystal, a 26-year-old Beijing resident, is an example of the new generation of unmarried Chinese women who face no societal pressure to wed. A 2021 survey conducted by China’s Communist Youth League discovered that over 40% of young urban women had no plans to marry, compared to less than 25% of men. This trend is partly attributed to increased childcare expenses and the lingering effects of China’s one-child policy.

One-Child Policy’s Impact on Chinese Society

According to Yi Fuxian, a senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, having one or no children has become the norm in China. This shift has impacted the economy, education, and the social environment. The Chinese government is concerned about the nation’s declining population, as the workforce is shrinking and an aging population is putting strain on welfare services.
China’s working age population, those aged between 16 and 59, currently consists of around 875 million people, making up just over 60% of the country’s population. However, this number is predicted to decrease by 35 million within the next five years.

Comparisons to Japan’s Demographics and Economic Growth

Yi Fuxian notes that China’s demographic structure in 2018 was similar to Japan’s in 1992 and predicts that China’s demographics in 2040 will resemble Japan’s in 2020. Previously, economists believed that China’s growth would outpace the US by the end of the decade. However, Yi suggests that China’s demographic decline will hinder its economic growth, causing it to lag behind the US by 2031-2035.

Concerns Over Supporting the Retired Population

With an average age of 38, China’s aging population and dropping birth rates raise concerns about the workforce’s ability to support retirees. The retirement age in China is 60 for men and 55 for women, and nearly a fifth of the population is currently over 60. In contrast, Japan has one of the world’s fastest aging populations, with almost a third of its citizens aged 65 or older.

China’s Struggling Pension System

According to Louise Loo, a senior economist at Oxford Economics, China’s pension system faces severe strain as the number of retirees surpasses contributors, causing pension fund contributions to decrease since 2014. The pension fund operates on a pay-as-you-work basis, with the workforce’s contributions providing retirees’ pensions.
To address this issue, Beijing established a fund in 2018 to transfer pension pay-outs from wealthier provinces to those with deficits. However, a 2019 report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimated that the main pension fund would be depleted by 2035 due to the shrinking workforce.

In 2022, China launched a private pension scheme in 36 cities, allowing individuals to open retirement accounts at banks to purchase pension products. However, Loo questions whether Chinese citizens will embrace private pension funds over traditional investments like property.

Similar Issues Faced by Japan and South Korea

Japan and South Korea also contend with aging populations and shrinking workforces. Yi Fuxian notes that China is attempting to emulate Japan’s policies to reduce parenting costs but lacks the financial resources to fully follow Japan’s path. Additionally, China faces a growing “lie flat” youth movement advocating for a rejection of career-driven lifestyles and high youth unemployment rates.
Yi concludes that, without a sufficient labor force, even the best pension system will be unable to provide enough support for the aging population. This demographic challenge, combined with economic and social factors, poses a significant hurdle for China’s future economic growth and stability. Addressing these issues will require innovative policies and a shift in societal attitudes towards marriage, family planning, and the workforce.