Expert: Time to adjust family planning policy

By Yang Lin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, September 16, 2011
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'Aging trend is irreversible'

OW: What will easing family planning policy do to control the aging process?

Zhai: One thing is clear: regardless of whether China eases its family planning policy, population aging trends cannot be reversed. Even if China begins allowing a second child now, future aging will be mitigated only to a certain degree about 2 to 3 percentage points, or having an aging rate decline from 28 percent to 25 percent or 26 percent.

Aging is an inevitable historical process. As long as fertility rates decline, a country will go through this process. Many developed countries and newly industrialized countries are also facing this problem, such as Japan, Korea and Singapore. As a developing country, China's fertility rate declines through family planning intervention, and it falls quickly. This is what we have to face.

Policies should be adjusted according to people's ideas. As the social security system continues to improve, people no longer need to raise children to take care of them in their old age. In some large cities where people are allowed a second child, many people still choose to have only one. Some even refuse to have children. After 20 years, people's fertility ideas will change. Just like in Europe, it will not make any difference soon to have or not have a family planning policy.

'Bucket-styled' population structure

OW: Do you think we should worry about the disappearing "demographic dividend"?

Zhai: "Demographic dividend" refers to a demographic period when people at the two poles [young and old] are few while those in the middle are many. When we have this advantage, we should make full use of it. When it has gone, we have to change economic development by upgrading industry and enhancing productivity. We should also safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of workers so that society can develop in a harmonious way.

OW: Can adjusting the family planning policy alleviate adverse selection?

Zhai: In China, family planning policy mainly reduced birth rate in rural areas. The average birth rate in rural areas declined from 6 to 7 down to 1.5, while that in urban areas declined from 3 to 1. Judging from the past 30 years, the rural and urban growth gap is narrowing. Therefore, the birth control policy is not aggravating adverse selection, but delaying it.

OW: What's the ideal population structure for China over the next 20 to 50 years?

Zhai: China's current population structure is like an inverted pyramid. The elderly population is increasing year by year while the newborn population growth rate is decreasing year by year. This situation is inevitable.

China's population grew very fast in 1950s and 1960s. The elderly population will increase at almost the same speed. Around 2040, when China's aging population reaches a peak of 400 million, it will begin decline. It's a natural process. It is safe to say the population structure after 40 years will be better than now and the near future.

European countries have a "bucket-like" population structure, which means people at the two poles are roughly the same as those in the middle. It's a sustainable population structure, also known as "stable population." It's an ideal structure. But because China has a large population base, it is more practical for us to adopt gradual negative population growth.

(The article was first published in Chinese and was translated by Li Huiru.)

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of


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