CHINA / SOCIETY
Population quality, technology to ease labor shortages caused by demographic chasm
Published: Dec 29, 2020 08:23 PM

Photo: Xinhua



There are 150 million fewer people in China in the 1990-2019 generation than in the 1960-80s generation, a population gap highlighted by some demographers on Tuesday. The problem will be eased, however, by  improving population quality and rapid technological advances, according to experts.  

Dividing the generations by 30-year periods, the total population of the "Post-1990s-2010s" has decreased by 150 million compared with the "Post-1960s-1980s," which means that 150 million fewer people were born in China from 1990 to 2019. 

Feng Xuming, a deputy director of the Comprehensive Economic Research Department of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, listed a few worrying figures at a Tsinghua University-hosted forum in Beijing, noting that these trends may lead to structural problems, including labor shortages. 

Around 2012, China's working-age population started to decline. "The number of young people entering the labor force will drop significantly," Feng warned. 

China introduced a one-child family planning policy in 1979 amid overpopulation. It avoided an estimated 400 million births before moving to a second-child policy near the end of 2015, the Xinhua News Agency reported. 

However, the number of births has been dropping each year since 2017. In November, China's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) proposed again to "lift family planning," which demographers see as an ongoing trend of inclusiveness. 

The "population chasm" is not a new concept, Peng Xizhe, director of the Fudan University Center for Population and Development Policy Studies, told the Global Times. "Demographers have been predicting this for about 30 years, so there is no need to panic."

As for potential labor shortages, Peng believes that China's gradually improving population quality and rapid technological advances will compensate for the negative effects of this trend.

"In contemporary times, a reduction of the working-age population has significantly less impact on society than it would have in the past," Peng noted. 

For example, fast-developing technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things have replaced some traditional labor-intensive jobs. The quality of the population is also improving, so that the working-age population will fit into more core positions, Peng said.

He also suggested that government departments should further ease restrictions in birth policies and encourage young couples to make their own fertility plans, in order to solve the problem of an aging population.

"We should also further build a family-friendly society by giving more social support to childbearing, such as reducing the employment pressure on women caused by having children and further improving the compensation policy," Peng said. 

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