China’s Unthinkable Population Problem

Posted on Wednesday, June 22nd, 02011 by Austin Brown
link Categories: Futures, Long Bets   chat 0 Comments

In his post earlier today, Bryan Campen mentioned Kevin Kelly’s 02019 Unthinkables – a set of predictions he made in 1999 that were specifically meant to be outlandish or – eponymously – unthinkable.

With 12 years of perspective on the predictions, Kelly concludes his post by saying that he doesn’t think any of them will come true.

As it turns out, however, one of them isn’t too far off the mark:

The fertility rate in China drops below the replacement level, and nothing the government can do can get Chinese couples to have more than 1.5 kids each. For the first time China encourages immigration to keep its huge economy going.

The first part of this prediction has happened. On China’s latest census, The Economist reports:

The data imply that the total fertility rate, which is the number of children a woman of child-bearing age can expect to have, on average, during her lifetime, may now be just 1.4, far below the “replacement rate” of 2.1, which eventually leads to the population stabilising.

The Chinese government, despite calls by many academic demographers, continues to stand firm on the one-child policy enacted in 1980.

Impact Lab points out that this demographic trend will lead to China’s workforce – the country’s primary economic advantage – beginning to shrink within 5 years. In order to mitigate potential economic problems from this change, the government is trying, “to develop technology- and innovation-driven industries that need fewer workers.”

If those industries don’t develop quickly enough, the government may have to look to immigration to supply the labor China’s economy needs and the second part of Kelly’s prediction won’t seem so unthinkable, either.

  • Don't worry, nature has this balance in it's plan

  • Qing Guan

    @gregorylent:disqus You don't really understand this problem.
    It's not natural, it's a government-made problem.

  • China's falling birthrate:

  • Fascinating

  • Oh, it loooks a serious question

  • hbh

  • You don't really understand this problem.

  • Ryan Davis

    Problem? What problem? This is magnificient news! Finally less population growth.  Overpopulation combined with the Western consumption behaviour is one of the most important causes for climate change and resource scarseness.

  • RickAutry

    No worries! Now that the usa is borrowing so much from China to pay off the Bush regime's illegal aggression and tax cuts to the filthy rich, not only will we all have to learn Cantonese, but as the corporate run government is less and less inclined to pay a living wage, once China starts calling in those emminent domain clauses, China will have an unending supply of American drug convict forced emigration-(does anybody remember Australia?) to run their export industries. No problem.

  • Jaybirdlow

    China has horrific environmental and resource problems — water, particularly. They should be planning to reduce their population by at least 50% in order to have a sustainable environment. Try to remember, the economy depends on the natural environment.

  • One consequence of this demographic situation is that China will not surpass the USA in GNP.

  • Not only does their work force goes down but their health cost goes up as the population ages.  Look at Japan and Russia.  The only reason the USA didn't suffer of this illness in the late 90's and early 00's was the immigration of Asians and Latin Americans to the country.  The aging population in the US has been replace and pay for by all the immigrants looking for the American Dream.  China is not a immigrant friendly country and this will hurt them.  Even do they have one of the biggest pool of immigrants right on their backyard their culture will not accept the this newcomers.

  • India

    This is great news for india… the western countries plus China will dissappear and the Indians will inherit the earth… we still have 2 – 3 kids… whereas europe and the white population will be non existent 200 years from now… china will fall from 1.3 billion to 700 million in the next 50 years…. chinese living so called modern lives opt to not have any kids… 

  • Je

    It is true that population is aging in china to some extend, but it creating a burden on their economy is a false hype created by the mainstream media. This is primarily because unlike the western countries, china doesn’t have a welfare system to support it’s elderly population, hence Chinese citizens being aware of this fact tend to save approximately 35% of their income for retirement. Furthermore, considering the current economy situation, the value of Yuan would have to automatically rise in the near future just to avoid the global economy from sinking into a recession and to maintain stable global growth if growth cannot be achieved in the west. The rise in the value of yuan automatically gives the chinese more purchasing power, hence the 35% of money this elderly people saved would now buy them more than what  it was when they working. For this reason, now they would be able to afford better hospital care, which in turn fuels in creation of jobs across the healthcare sector and in the meantime helping transform the chinese economy from a low end manufacturing (now they would be able to outsource this jobs) to high end manufacturing and service sector jobs. The reality is that even by 2050, china would have 800 million people of working age and with implementation of technology, it is still more than enough people for the available jobs 

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