China's Population Problems

Population Problems in China

With such a huge population, every social problem is magnified. If 10 percent of the population in China is unemployed, for example, the number of people out of work is equal to half the population of the United States. Already the strains of over population have caused severe water shortages in places with high rainfall and produced housing shortages in cities where the average person lives in the space the size of a small closet (12 square feet per person). The economy in China is booming in part because 70 percent of the population is of working age. This will change dramatically as the population ages and fewer children become adults because of the old child policy. See Problems in Feeding the World's Largest Nation. Agriculture, Economics

Population Control in China

The Chinese have made great strides in reducing their population through birth control. But that has not always been the case. Mao did nothing to reduce China's expanding population, which doubled under his leadership. He believed that birth control was a capitalist plot to weaken the country and make it vulnerable to attack. He also liked to say, "every mouth comes with two hands attached." For a while Mao urged Chinese to have lots of children to support his “human wave” defense policy when he feared attack from the United States and the Soviet Union. The "Later, Longer, Fewer" policy that is the cornerstone of China's birth control program was put into effect in 1976, around the same time that Mao died. It encouraged couples to get married later, wait longer to have children, and have fewer children, preferably one. The program forced married couples to sign statements that obligated them to one child. Women who had abortions were given free vacations.

Graying of China

Another consequence of a low birth rate and one-child policy is an increasingly older population. As of 2005 about 143 million people (more than 10 percent of the population) were over 60. This is more than population of all but about ten countries. The rate is expected to increase at a rate of 100 million a decade. By 2050, there are expected to be 438 million elderly, or one out of four Chinese, compared with one out of ten in 1980. In Shanghai, people over 60 already make 21.6 percent of the population and are expected to make up 34 percent in 2020. Similar trend are occurring across the country, especially in urban areas where the working-age population is expect to peak in about 2015. By 2050 China will have more than 100 million over 80. If things don’t change that means that just 1.6 working age adults will support every person aged 60 and above, compared to 7.7 in 1975.

Consequences of Graying Population

An aging population means that relatively small group of young people has to economically support a large number of elderly people. Health care and pension costs will soar as elderly people make up a larger portion of the population. There will be a labor shortage as the demands by the elderly exceed the ability to young people to meet them. The ratio of working people to retirees is dropping quickly. Immigrant labor will be needed to make up the shortfall. China is the first nation to have to cope with a population that is getting older before it becomes rich. The elderly population is expected to mushroom before the economy and society have the capability to deal with the problem. Already, China is racking up health care and pension costs it can not afford as people born in the 1950s and 60s begin retiring. By 2035 and 2040 the peak of the aging problem China will face a social security deficient of $128 billion. As the working-age population shrinks, labor cost will rise. China’s aging population could undermine the advantages of low-cost labor by the middle of the 21st century. In 2007 China had six people in the workforce for every retiree but this ratio while fall to 2:1 by 2050. See Elderly Image Sources: Maps, University of Texas; Census poster, Landsberger Posters; People by Age Group, BBC Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications. Page Top© 2008 Jeffrey Hays     

Name _________________________

Period _________________



1. What social problems arise because of over population?


2.  What is the average living space size for people in urban areas? Could you live like that, why or why not?



3.  Why did Mao not limit birth rates? What was he afraid of?

4. What do you think Mao meant by "every mouth comes with two hands attached."?  

5.  Do you think the "Later, Longer, Fewer" policy would work in America? Why or why not?  

6.  What is the “graying problem” in China, and what problems will China face because of it?