China Will Get Rich Before It Grows Old

At a conference on the Chinese economy in 2012, Cai Fang, a demographer at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, issued a dire warning: “There’s now no doubt China will be old before it is rich.” He was expressing a view widely held by economists and China watchers. Over the past 65 years, life expectancy in China has more than doubled, from 35 years to roughly 75, as the fertility rate has plunged. Many fear that if these trends continue, China’s population will age faster than the country can accommodate. In 2014, the share of China’s population older than 60 reached roughly 15 percent; demographers predict that figure will double by 2050, reaching the equivalent of nearly 450 million people, or about one-quarter of the world’s elderly. Over the same period, China’s median age will skyrocket, from roughly 35 to 46. China, some experts say, is in for a shock: As more and more people age out of their working years, the country’s economic productivity will plummet. And as its growth slows, China will find itself without the money and resources to provide for its elderly, who will become a financial burden.

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