This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

More Angst About Aging in Asia

Mark Frazier, a professor of politics at the New School who has written a book about the topic, has an Op-Ed in today's NY Times discussing the way in which China is very hastily trying to organize pensions for its older population, especially in rural areas. These peasants, who were presumably the focus of the original Communist Revolution, have been almost systematically left out of the picture until very recently.
Most urban dwellers have been eligible for pensions since 1951, but rural pensions weren’t enacted until much later; as in all developing countries, rural families lived off the land and were supported by relatives.
But rapid urbanization and rural land grabs have jeopardized the retirement security of elderly Chinese in the countryside. The share of China’s population over the age of 60 is now 185 million, and will nearly double by 2030. A recent study estimated that over the next 20 years, the government will have accumulated $10.9 trillion in pension liabilities.
The problem is large, but so is China's economy and the Chinese have been expanding their economic influence in developing countries throughout the world, presumably to earn income to help pay some of these age-structure related costs. It was the advantageous age structure that helped the economy, and now the economy has to come to the rescue of the elderly who worked hard and had small families. One solution, resisted everywhere of course, is to raise the retirement age, which is currently 55 for women and 60 for men (well younger than in the US). But, as Frazier notes, another huge issue is the set of inequalities deeply entrenched in the country.
An enduring source of inequality in China has been the curse of geography: where you were born, lived and worked has largely determined the level and even existence of your retirement benefits. Reducing the urban-rural gap — as China this month announced a plan to do — is essential, as is saving elderly citizens from poverty.

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