A people shortage may seem unlikely in a country of 1.3 billion, the most in the world. The concern, though, is not with the overall number. Rather, as the population shrinks, which is projected to begin in about 15 years, China may find itself with the wrong mix of people: too few young workers to support an aging population.
It is a combination that could slow or, in a worst-case scenario, even reverse China's surging economic growth. The government and families will have to tap savings to care for the elderly, reducing funds for investment and driving up interest rates. At the same time, labor costs probably will rise as the work force shrinks and squeeze out some industries...
Family size has dropped dramatically since the 1970s, when the average Chinese woman had five to six children. Today, China's fertility rate is 1.5 children per woman. Most families have just one, but exceptions allow multiple children for ethnic minorities and a second one for rural families whose first baby is a girl.The one child policy has had a second unintended consequence. Boys are more valued than girls so parents have aborted female fetuses.
If that fertility rate holds, China's population will peak at 1.4 billion in 2026 and then start shrinking, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By the end of this century, China's population would be cut almost in half to 750 million, according to a model developed by Wang Feng, a demographer at the University of California, Irvine. That would still be two and a half times bigger than the U.S. today.
Wang says the government's focus on slowing population growth has dangerous side effects.
In just 10 years, the age 20-24 population is expected to be half of today's 124 million, a shift that could hurt China's economic competitiveness by driving up wages. Over the same period, the proportion of the population over 60 is expected to climb from 12 percent — or 167 million people — to 17 percent.
Another concern is a surplus of males. Sonograms became more widely available in the 1990s, and some parents who wanted a son aborted their baby if they learned it was a girl.Would the country's citizens be better off if the government had stayed out of Chinese bedrooms and allowing them the freedom to plan their own family size? Almost certainly yes, but it certainly would have been a freer country.
Though the practice is illegal, statistics make clear that it is widespread. The male-female ratio at birth was 119 males to 100 females in 2009, compared with a global average of 107 to 100.
Experts fear that, in the years to come, the gender imbalance will create a frustrated generation of men unable to find spouses. That in turn could fuel the trafficking of women and girls to be sold as brides.