In response to an aging population without sufficient social security support, China has taken steps towards repealing its long-standing "One Child" policy. Urban families have been allowed to have more than one child for years if they can afford a second baby. Rural parents are similarly permitted to have a second child if their first is a girl.
Says Xie Linli, director of the Shanghai Population and Family Planning Commission, “We advocate eligible couples to have two kids because it can help to reduce the proportion of the ageing people and alleviate a workforce shortage in the future."
Eligible couples? Presumably this means wealthy, educated couples who can afford to feed more than one young mouth. Chinese commenters agree that this limitation to eligibility suggests some invidious steps towards a policy to create richer, larger urban centers while weaning poor communities off government support:
One poster remembered the policies of the 1950s and 1960s when Chairman Mao actively appealed for large families. “Our parents were poor and they had five or six children. Now we are better off but having even one baby is difficult. In the future we may not be willing even to have one and it will be like the West with a falling population. Terrible!”
Those who oppose the policy note that the cost of living and education are already prohibitively high, suggesting that few couples will accept the government incentives to have a second child. Culturally, in most of China parents who give birth leave their single baby with grandparents most nights while the young couple enjoys night clubs and social life.
The US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that by 2050 China will have more than 430 million pensioners over the age of 60, with more than 100 million older than 80. Demographics indicate that by that year only 1.6 working-age Chinese adults will support every person aged 60 and above, compared with 7.7 in 1975.
With an underfunded state pension system and shrinking youth population to prop social security up, China has lost the elder support upon which the country traditionally relies. As the population grows older before it grows rich, China finds itself ill-prepared to cope with its aging population.