Has anybody here seen my old friend China?
Can you tell me where it’s gone?
It bred a lot of people, but it seems the young grow old.
It’s once-hot economy will soon grow cold.
By finally backing away from its one-child policy, China would seem to be opening the gates again to demographic expansion. But it may prove an opening that few Chinese embrace, for a host of reasons.
Demographer Nicholas Eberstadt envisions a developing of fiscal crisis in China caused by “this coming tsunami of senior citizens,” with a smaller workforce, greater pension obligations and generally slower economic growth.
These factors were clearly part of the calculus that led to suspending the one-child policy. But if China’s rulers think they can change demographic trends on a dime, they are massively mistaken.
The article is by Joel Kotkin, who closely follows and analyzes demographic trends. It is well worth your time. I will cherry-pick my favorite bits.
Why are China’s rulers “massively mistaken”?
In 1979, China’s population was 80 percent rural; today the proportion is roughly half that.
This transformation makes reversing the one-child policy largely moot, Jones says. Indeed a 2013 easing of restrictions on family size in certain circumstances elicited far fewer takers than expected. Barely 12 percent of eligible families even applied.
Urban real estate is expensive. With voluntary and forced relocation to the cities, familiues can barely afford to house one child, let alone two.
The reasons are cultural as well as economic:
All over the world the displacement of rural populations, accelerate the pattern of low fertility, notes the demographer Jones. For one thing, separation from their relatives in the countryside means there is little in the way of family support for taking care of children.
Jones suggests that urbanization has also undermined the traditionally family centered religious values of Chinese society. Pew Research identifies China as the least religious major country in the world, making it, even more than Europe, a paragon of atheism. All around the world, the decline of religious sentiments has been associated with low fertility around the world.
Finally the announcement’s timing may not be fortuitous. When China’s economy was booming and the future looked limitless, more families might have considered a second child. But with the economy slowing, it seems logical to expect that weak economic conditions will reduce fertility rates further, as has been the case in Japan and Taiwan.
A slowing economy, rising costs for housing and raising families, no pillars of faith—what is it all for? If you don’t believe in your family and don’t believe in God (of whatever persuasion), what do you believe in? The state? Good luck.
[I]t is now clear that many parts of the world — notably East Asia and Europe — face a very different demographic challenge rooted in falling fertility, diminishing workforces, and rapid aging. As British author Fred Pearce has put it, “The population ‘bomb’ is being defused over the medium and long term.”
When a nation finds itself short of a particular commodity, including human capital, it imports from nations who have an overabundance. (See Mark Steyn ad infinitum.) Which is why Europe has been growing more Arabic over the years—by leaps and bounds in the last year alone. China may not make the same choice, but it will be highly entertaining to watch if it does. We’ll have to make popcorn chicken, Aggie!