Bicentennial of Aging: China’s Population in the Light of Globalization

This article is from WeChat public number: The_sun_also_rise (ID: The_sun_also_rise), by Mu Feng

The much-anticipated data of the seventh national census was finally released on May 11. The issues of aging and childlessness are becoming increasingly hot issues in Chinese society. Some demographers argue that China is experiencing a “demographic crisis” due to aging, and that if fertility restrictions are not fully liberalized as soon as possible and fertility incentives are not taken, economic development will be seriously affected, and future technological innovation will be compromised. It is also argued that despite the liberalization of the two-child birth, the effect is not good, the fertility rate is declining, the trend of aging and fewer children is irreversible, and even if the fertility limit is completely liberalized, it is difficult to raise the fertility rate, and may lead to more births for the economically advantaged and more difficult births for the economically disadvantaged, which will lead to intergenerational inequity. The public’s anxiety is that high housing prices and the burden of raising children are the real reasons for not wanting to have children, while people are still looking at the moon in the water to see what will happen in the ageing era.

According to demographic research, a country (region) with more than 10% of its total population over 60 years old or 7% of its total population over 65 years old is defined as an “aging society” and more than 14% as a “super-aging society”. “In February 1999, China officially entered the “aging society” when the percentage of the population over 60 years old reached 10%, and in 2005, the percentage of the population over 65 years old reached 7.5%. According to the data of the Seventh Plan and the 2019 projections of the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat (“UN Data 2019”), by 2025, the proportion of people over 65 will reach 14%, thus entering a “super-aging society “At that time, the working-age population aged 24 to 65 (and, more broadly, 15 to 64) will also reach a peak, followed by a phase of declining working-age population.

Less than 25 years have elapsed between China’s entry into an aging society 20 years ago and its entry into a super-aging society, a rate of aging that is similar to that of Japan and the fastest among major countries worldwide (Table 1). India, which has often been compared to China in recent years, will also be aging rapidly (after China and Japan), except that India has not yet entered the aging stage, and thus many argue that India could be the next “demographic dividend pool” to replace China.

Bicentennial of Aging: China's Population in the Light of Globalization

Table 1: Aging process in major countries worldwide

The reason why aging has not received much attention in China for a long time before is that there is a time lag in demographic change, i.e., it takes more than two generations to go from rapid population growth to declining growth rate, peak in total, and then decline in total. This is not a phenomenon unique to China; Chinese demographers have been studying aging since the 1980s and have come to understand that the trend of population aging is irreversible in the long run.

Today’s concern about the aging and fewer children is intertwined with issues such as economic development involution, high urban housing prices, and limited educational resources, which appear to be discussing population issues but are actually discussing issues of opportunity and equity. Demographic and economic studies are very concerned with the aging stage and when the working-age population will reach its peak, and recent domestic discussions on the above topics have been very intensive.

People are the most important factor for economic development, and perhaps it should also be said the other way around that the purpose of economic development is for the free development of people, who should be the end rather than the means of economic development. The quantity and quality of population are related to the past and future of economic development. The demographic situation largely determines the economic and social structure and even the political structure of a modern country, and can also have a decisive impact on the country’s fiscal and tax system and welfare system.

According to the usual definition of demographic economics, 25-64 years old (or 15-64 years old in a broader sense) belongs to the working-age population, and those below 15 and above 64 years old belong to the population of children and elderly people in need of support. A country is often considered to be in a period of “demographic dividend” when it has the largest proportion of working-age people and the smallest proportion of people in need of support.

According to demographic studies, the largest proportion of the working-age population is usually found at the time of aging, which means a “demographic dividend”. As the demographic structure shifts further, there will be more and more older people, and if there are not enough new people, there will be a larger and larger share of the population to support. At this point, we can only rely on productivity increases to maintain or enhance economic development, and due to the rigidity of welfare spending in modern societies, the social burden will continue to increase, which will have a series of far-reaching effects on capital accumulation, the tax system, the welfare system, the direction of investment, the development opportunities of the younger generation, and even their social behavior. It can be said that these issues concern everyone in this generation and even future generations.

According to UN data (2019), China’s total population will peak in 2030 (predicted to be 1.464 billion) and then begin to decline to 1.402 billion by 2050 and 1.065 billion by 2100. The proportion of the population aged 65 or older will increase from 12% in 2020 to 26.1% in 2050 and 31.9% by 2100 (Tables 2 and 3). The accuracy of the underlying statistics is constrained by reality, and although the above projections may be continuously revised over time, the overall trend and approximate timing will not be much of a problem.

Bicentennial of Aging: China's Population in the Light of Globalization

Table 2. Total population change and projections for China (1950-2100) (Source: UN data (2019))

Bicentennial of Aging: China's Population in the Light of Globalization

Table 3. Total population change and projections for China (by age, 1950-2100) (Source: UN data (2019))

There is a great deal of research on China’s aging, growing concerns about aging, and a plethora of proposals for countermeasures to increase fertility, but many of these studies stand in the present and look at the country from the national perspective. In fact, from a global perspective, the aging of human societies is a very recent phenomenon. It has been only 157 years since France first started to age in 1864, and the definition of aging at 60 and 65 years old was only defined and adopted by the United Nations in the 1950s. When Japan created its retirement system in the 1930s in response to the rapid increase in the elderly population, life expectancy per capita was less than 50 years old, and the mandated retirement age was 55. When social insurance became mandatory in the United States in 1935, less than 11% of people were able to live to age 65 (Drucker, 2018).

In the next 50 years, however, all major countries will enter the stage of “super-aging societies,” and the vast majority of both first-mover and latecomer catching-up countries since industrialization will have narrowed their total populations, and all of them will basically face a shrinking population. Historically, the dramatic increase in population size and life expectancy was a phenomenon that occurred only after the Industrial Revolution in Europe. In 1000 A.D., there were only 270 million people in the world, increasing to 600 million in 1700, before breaking through 1 billion in 1820. Global population growth has accelerated since then, reaching 2.5 billion in 1950, surpassing 5.3 billion in 1990, and approaching 7.8 billion in 2020 (Table 4).

Bicentennial of Aging: China's Population in the Light of Globalization

Table 4. Historical data on global population totals (in billions of people) Source: Angus Maddison, Groningen Growth and Development Center.

The demographic expansion and subsequent aging of countries (regions) did not occur simultaneously, but in sequence through the initial wave of demographic expansion in Western Europe. This process was initially strongly influenced by the agricultural, industrial and health revolutions.

The initial population expansion in Europe led to the expansion of foreign colonization and the expansion of Western civilization across the globe; the sequence of population expansion led to a change in the balance of power between the old and new colonial powers; while the population expansion in Europe slowed down, the population of the colonies began to expand, making the anti-colonial movement strong enough to overcome colonial rule, and national independence was generally achieved; the first European countries to age were concerned about the decline of their populations and the decline of the global population. In the face of their own fertility difficulties, they began to adopt strategies such as immigration and foreign labor to maintain their total population and labor force, and to advise and help late-developing countries to control their population growth.

When combined with industrialization, the population expansion of the late developing countries led to structural changes and a so-called “demographic dividend” period. The first developed countries, constrained by the rising costs and declining demand caused by their own aging, began to transfer the labor-intensive part of the industrial chain to the latter industrial countries through globalization, and at the same time expanded their overseas markets, combining with the “demographic dividend” of the latter industrial countries, thus forming a “win-win” phase. This results in a “win-win” situation. It can be said that globalization is the result of industrialization, but it is also the result of the global population wave which is caused by industrialization.

Due to the different demographic bases and starting times of industrialization, the sequence of “demographic dividend” emerges differently in different late-developing countries. This has created a competitive situation among late-developing countries.

From the perspective of the first developing countries to age, the emerging overseas “demographic dividend” has enabled them to maintain their internal welfare system at low cost and to keep the cost of living of their people low through global trade without producing a large amount of basic necessities on their own, thus reducing the inflation level of the first developing countries; and the overseas The investment income of the first-mover countries has enabled them to continue to grow their economic aggregates. But this is mainly from the perspective of the large firms and the overall economic growth of the first countries. From the perspective of the populations of the advanced countries, the loss of productive jobs due to globalization has led to a problematic gap between the rich and the poor within some of the advanced countries. Thus, the “demographic dividend” of the late developing countries is both honey for the upper middle class and arsenic for the lower middle class of the early developing countries.

Obviously, the East Asian countries, especially China, which has been the “world factory” in recent times, have been the main “demographic dividend pool” for the first-mover countries since World War II. However, with the rapid aging of East Asian countries, especially China, is the global “demographic dividend” sustainable in perpetuity, and will there be a “second China” after China? This is not an unfounded question. Charles Goodhart, professor emeritus at the London School of Economics and Political Science and former chief adviser to the Bank of England, believes that “China will no longer be a global force in curbing inflation. If anything, it is the fact that demographic pressures (in China) and the Lewis inflection point mean that inflationary pressures that the economy has never faced until now could become a reality that will catch it off guard” (Goodhart, 2020). Goodhart calls the situation resulting from a series of changes, including China’s aging factors “The Great Demographic Reversal” (GDR). As the initial country of population expansion since the agricultural and industrial revolutions in Europe, scholars in the United Kingdom have deep insight into global demographic change and its possible implications.

Obviously, in thinking about the aging problem in China today, we need to break through the limitations of “the present” and “our own country”, and should stand on a historical and global level to comprehensively sort out the causes and effects of global population expansion and aging. Not only should we analyze the impact of China’s aging on our own country, but we also need to see that China today is already the most important part of the global economy, and that the demographic changes of various countries will have complex interactions, and that China’s aging is a global issue and may even become an important variable in reshaping the future of human society.

In order to fully understand the global demographic waves that have been ebbing and flowing for more than two hundred years, this paper will examine retrospectively the causes of the first demographic expansion in modern Western Europe and its global impact, which will inevitably involve an examination of the agricultural, industrial, and health care revolutions in Europe, as well as an examination of European colonial history, anti-colonial history, and globalization, which intersect with important issues such as industrialization, urbanization, and globalization These topics overlap with important issues such as industrialization, urbanization, and globalization, and thus the paper goes beyond the usual scope of demography and demographic economics, and some of the sources cited are rare in previous studies in China. Obviously, such an extensive discussion is beyond the scope of a single article, or even a monograph. In this paper, we hope to throw out a “trunk” full of points to push the discussion on aging in China deeper, which is the only way to make the discussion on aging break out of the narrow circle of discussing things, and to help the whole society form a consensus to deal with the aging problem.

I. Back to the original point – England’s population expansion

According to British demographer Paul Morland, the massive demographic change in human history began in the British Isles and the people who were born there and dispersed throughout North America and Australasia. This change soon spread to the rest of Europe and, from there, to Asia and Latin America (Morland, 2019). The population of England increased from 2.77 million in 1541 to 5.28 million in 1656, and then fluctuated for about 70 years, remaining at about 5.3 million in the 1730s. However, by 1801, England’s population surpassed 8.66 million, increasing to 21.5 million by 1871 (Table 5).

Bicentennial of Aging: China's Population in the Light of Globalization

Table 5. Population Growth in England (1541-1871) Source: E.A. Wrigley & R.S. Schofield, 1981

Why did population expansion begin in England? This is a topic on which there are many different opinions. From the above data, it is clear that during the 1750s to 1870s, England experienced historical changes that led to its rapid population growth. At that time, the pressures caused by England’s population expansion were already widely publicized. Malthus, a graduate of Jesus College, Cambridge, who majored in mathematics and was then an Anglican priest, published a work that would influence future generations, “A Treatise on Population,” in 1798.

Malthus argued that “food is necessary for the survival of mankind; the lust between the sexes is necessary and will remain essentially as it is” and that “population, if left unchecked, will increase in geometrical proportions, while the means of subsistence, such as food, will increase only in arithmetical proportions. This means that “subsistence difficulties will always constitute a strong disincentive to population”. According to Malthus, “preventive check and positive check prevent the natural increase of population”. Preventive check” refers to “people’s insight into the difficulties they must go through to provide for their families,” while “positive check” refers to “the lower The “preventive suppression” refers to “the insight into the difficulties that must be experienced in providing for a family,” while the “positive suppression” refers to “the hardships experienced by the lower classes in providing proper food and care for their children” (Malthus, 1798). Although later technological advances in agriculture and industrialization have solved the food problem, Malthus’s judgment that resources constrain population growth and that individuals constrained by economic conditions will voluntarily reduce or abandon childbearing remains valid today.

Back in England at the time, according to Malthusian theory: population growth -> rising food prices (falling real wages) -> falling marriage rate -> falling fertility rate -> falling population growth rate. But the real development is not quite consistent with Malthus’ judgment. Studies by later scholars show that the population size of England, which was inhibited by food prices at that time, had begun to change, and population growth was accompanied by an increase in the amount of food people could obtain, which led to an increase in marriage and fertility rates, and also raised the nutrition level of people, resulting in fewer stillbirths (E.A. Wrigley & R.S. Schofield, 1981).

The decline in food prices in England at that time was due to at least three factors.

First, the impact of the agricultural revolution.

The development of agricultural technology boosted grain production. Historical data from 1781 to 1806 show that while the population growth rate in England increased significantly, the increase in food prices declined, implying a significant change in food supply (Overton, 1996). The agricultural revolution in England, as proposed by British scholars, extended roughly from the 16th century to the 19th century (Overton, 1996). In fact, the English agricultural revolution was part of the European agricultural revolution, including the introduction of important new crops such as potatoes, corn, tobacco, and sugar beets, the improvement of traditional agricultural tools such as plows and harrows, the widespread use of animal-powered farm machinery such as threshers, harvesters, and seeders, and even the adoption of crop fallow rotation systems, all of which did not occur in England alone, but earlier or at the same time in the Netherlands, Spain, France, and Germany. France, Germany, etc. The main contributions of England in agriculture include at least three aspects: the promotion of Norfolk four-course rotation, the use of steam-based power farm machinery, and the invention and widespread use of chemical fertilizers (also in Germany and France during the same period). In addition, the enclosure movement in England objectively led to the consolidation of land and larger arable areas, which facilitated the adoption of new agricultural techniques. (Habakkuk & Postan, 1965; Overton, 1996)

Second, the impact of the industrial revolution.

The Industrial Revolution had a direct impact on the development of agricultural technology: new methods of iron smelting provided large quantities of low-cost raw materials for the manufacture of more iron plows; the invention of the steam engine changed agricultural implements from animal-driven to steam-driven. The more important impact of the Industrial Revolution was that England first began to industrialize and was able to obtain more food through the export of industrial goods. With an industrial base, England was able to control more colonies, including more crop production areas, than Spain or Portugal during the Age of Sail.

Third, the impact of the repeal of the “Grain Law”.

In 1672, in order to protect the country’s grain cultivation, England enacted a series of laws collectively known as “grain laws” (corn laws). The Corn Laws initially subsidized grain exports and later restricted foreign grain imports. With the industrialization of Britain, transportation by rail, road and air was greatly improved, but after 1815, there was economic recession, social unrest and political radicalism. 1840, Britain could not provide enough food to ensure the livelihood of the people, and the late potato epidemic led to the Great Famine of 1845 in Ireland, and social conditions deteriorated. At this time the call for free trade was growing, and in 1846 Britain finally repealed the grain laws, allowing the import of large quantities of grain to fill the shortfall in domestic production. (James, 1997)

These three factors led to a growth in the British population with a limited increase in food prices, an increase in economic standards, and an increase in both marriage and fertility rates. At the same time, mortality rates in England began to decline before the 1850s due to improved nutrition and higher living standards; improvements in public health and sanitation after the 1850s, as well as medical advances in vaccination, surgery, blood vessel research, and epidemiology since the 18th century, continued the decline (Hinde, 2003; Dunglison , 2020;). The rise in fertility and the decline in mortality rates have put England ahead of other countries that have begun to experience rapid population expansion.

England’s population expansion had a significant impact on its economic development, and Hinde suggests that half of England’s average annual economic growth from 1820 to 1870 (an average annual growth rate of about 2.5%) can be attributed to population growth and the other half to wealth growth of the overall population (Hinde, 2003). However, it is important to note that a large number of new people in England have not yet been lifted out of poverty at this time, and many of the pressures of population growth on the economy and society are still expanding.

Population expansion in Europe and its impact on overseas colonization

From the population data of Western and Northern European countries from 1750 to 1850, after the agricultural and industrial revolutions, the gap between the total population of England and that of France was significantly narrowed, and it was completely ahead of other Western and Northern European countries (Germany had not yet completed unification) (Table 6). At the same time, other European countries were also first affected by the British Industrial Revolution, and their populations entered a rapid growth interval.

Bicentennial of Aging: China's Population in the Light of Globalization

Table 6. Population growth in Northern and Western Europe (1750 to 1850), in millions, source: Anderson, 1988

After Britain experienced population expansion during the industrialization period, the disruptive and tearing effect of industrialization on traditional socio-economics was evident, despite the increased economic growth rate. The situation became even more critical after the enclosure movement, when large numbers of landless peasants converged on the big cities and the urban poor had already increased.

Karl Polanyi, in his retrospective study of the English “Poor Law” in 1944, suggested that the new wave of enclosure gave mobility to the land and created a rural proletariat. But the “misrule of the Poor Law” prevented them from earning a living from their labor. It is no wonder that people of the time were horrified by this seeming contradiction: on the one hand, a miraculous increase in production, and on the other hand, the appearance of a mass of people who would become starving (Polanyi, 1944).

The “Poor Law” refers to a series of laws enacted in England as early as 1601 for the purpose of relieving poverty. What Polanyi called the “misrule of the Poor Laws” was that the Poor Laws were implemented in such a way that the poor were confined to the parishes for a low level of relief, but were prevented from moving to other parishes for work opportunities. This was also criticized by Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations, who argued that the free flow of labor was obstructed by the Poor Law, a phenomenon unique to England. This obstruction made it difficult for the poor to obtain the right to settle anywhere, and even prevented them from working anywhere outside their parishes (Smith, 1776).

Malthus, in his Essay on Population, also severely criticized the Poor Law. He argued that the Poor Law, which ostensibly provided relief to the poor by taxing the wealthy, actually worsened the general condition of the poor in two ways: first, the poor, who were too poor to provide for their families, were allowed to marry and have children while receiving relief, which only increased the population and not the food of the breadwinner. Secondly, the poor in the Poor House would need to consume food, and this would reduce food for other hard-working and more valuable members of society, thus forcing more people to rely on the dole (Malthus, 1798).

Lawrence James argues that the Poor Law of 1834 was amended so that the poor could be paid almost exclusively for their labor, and the lazy man was no longer there, but the English “proletariat” was created. The Poor Relief Act of 1834 provided a boost to the factory owners, making life unbearable for the unemployed and forcing them to emigrate or find work. But sometimes (because of economic fluctuations) even those who wanted to work had difficulty finding work (James, 1997). Objectively, the Poor Law of 1834 provided more native labor for England’s industrial revolution and accelerated industrialization, at the cost of increasingly sharp conflicts between capital and labor.

The industrial revolution that first began in England gradually spilled over to the Western European countries, which followed England’s example and saw their populations expand in turn. The populations of England, France, Germany, and Italy grew from about 22.3 million, 36.5 million, 31.7 million, and 23.9 million in 1850 to 34.3 million, 40 million, 44.2 million, and 31.7 million, respectively, in 1890. In contrast, the two dominant countries of the Age of Sail, Spain and Portugal, were slow to industrialize and their populations were only 17.6 million and 5.1 million by 1890 (Habakkuk & Postan, 1965).

The combination of push and pull led to a massive migration of Europe’s expanding population to the colonies (Table 7). England’s 1834 Poor Relief Act even provided for the emigration of the poor, and between 1835 and 1837 alone, 6,400 people moved to overseas colonies (Boyer, 1990). Private charities even supported the sending of orphans to the colonies (James, 1997). The vast majority of emigration was, of course, voluntary.

Bicentennial of Aging: China's Population in the Light of Globalization

Table 7. Number of out-migrants from European countries (1815-1930, in millions), Source: Baines, 1991

From 1815 to 1930, out-migration exceeded 11.4 million in Britain and 7.3 million in Ireland. Britain’s population expansion resulted in the largest direct export of its population abroad, far exceeding that of other European countries (Table 7). Ninety-five percent of these European out-migrants went to five countries: 32.6 million to the United States, 7.2 million to Canada (many of whom later also went to the United States), 3.5 million to Australia, 4.3 million to Brazil, and 6.4 million to Argentina (Hatton & Williamson, 1994). These out-migrating European populations joined previous colonizers and immigrants and flourished in the places they moved to.

French historian Fernand Brodeur argues that although the Spanish were able to conquer South America, they were unable to control it. Morland argues that Britain was able to replace Spain as the dominant colonial power after the Industrial Revolution “because it was in a phase of population expansion, thus generating not only a large enough domestic population but also sending millions of people to the colonies and elsewhere; Spain never did this “. Britain’s population export advantage played a key role in what would become World War I: the Allies mobilized nearly 46 million people during the war, a significant portion of which were support forces from overseas colonies; the Allies were able to mobilize less than 27 million at this time. (Morland, 2019)

The export and reproduction of the British population to North America and Australia due to population expansion was the prerequisite and foundation for the global influence of Anglo-Saxon civilization, and the “Empire of the Sunset” would not have been a reality if there had been only the export of advanced technology without a large out-migration of population.

Carrol Quigley argues that the spread of population pressure from the core of Western civilization (Western Europe), i.e., the first growth of the British population, helps explain the confrontation between Britain and France in the 1850s; it also explains the decline in population growth in the 1900s when the British and French populations growth rate declined and the German population was still growing rapidly, the Anglo-French alliance against Germany (Quigley, 1966).

Bicentennial of Aging: China's Population in the Light of Globalization

Table 8. Data source: Habakkuk & Postan, 1965

The outbreak of World War I had a deep background of population expansion pressure in Europe. Before the outbreak of WWI, the population of Germany had reached more than 68 million, while the population of Austria-Hungary had reached 50 million, which together was even equal to the population of the entire North America. Since the German population was still expanding, even after the depletion of the population by World War I, the total population of Germany at the end of 1918 was only about 2.7 million less than before the war. After the defeat, the Allied Powers demanded reparations from Germany that were already well beyond its means. The German diplomat Brockdorff-Rantzau made a speech at the Paris Peace Conference on May 13, 1919, in which he complained about the Versailles Peace Treaty. He stated: “In the last two generations, Germany has been transformed from an agricultural country into an industrial country. As an agricultural country, Germany could support 40 million people; as an industrial country, it could ensure the livelihood of 67 million people”, while the extremely heavy reparation demands imposed on Germany “to put the terms of the peace treaty into practice would theoretically result in the death of millions of Germans… …to sign this peace treaty would be to sign the death sentence of millions of German men, women and children.” Keynes very soberly noted that “at least for the Austrian-German agreement, this indictment applies” (Keynes, 1919).

The outbreak of World War II was largely a continuation of World War I, with German demographic pressure and excessive reparations claims as key causes. The Marshall Plan after World War II clearly embraced the lessons of the Versailles Peace Treaty.

Overall, research on the wars between colonial powers and the two great wars has been sweaty and rich in perspective, with scholars of civilizational history and demographers looking for explanations in the waves of civilizational diffusion and demographic change. The anti-colonial movement and the independence of nation-states in the post-war period were largely the result of the spread of Western industrial civilization to the colonies, which began to swell in population, while the population growth rate of the colonial powers had moved into a declining range.

However, the spread of Western civilization, with Western Europe at its core, did not go smoothly and was blocked at the outset in East Asia and Russia, so that these regions did not become subordinate to Western civilization in the way that North America and Australia were. To a large extent, this was because the native civilizations of the above regions had always been in a dominant position in terms of population size and withstood the technological, economic, and military pressures of Western civilization at the time of its invasion.

In the case of China, the population had reached an unprecedented 430 million by the time the Taiping and Twisting Rebellion and other uprisings and the Qing Dynasty suppression occurred, and was still at 318 million in the fourth year of Tongzhi (1865) after the end of the Taiping movement (Ge Jianxiong, 2020). From Japan, its population had reached 32,296,000 in 1873 and 55,963,000 in 1920 (Yoshikawa-Yo, 2017). From Russia, its population had reached 139 million in 1914 (Rybakovsky, 1994).

North America and Australia were still in hunter-gatherer societies at the time of the invasion of Western civilization and were not sufficiently resistant to face the demographic advantages of Western technology and immigration, and hunter-gatherer societies were defenseless against the germs and guns of agricultural and industrial societies.

The only exception was India. The British colonized 250 million people in India with a total of less than 100,000 soldiers and administrators, which the British themselves regarded as a miracle (James, 1997). India became “the jewel in the crown of the British Empire” when the colonizers clearly had no demographic advantage. This was mainly because India was not a unified nation-state prior to British colonization. In the mid-18th century, the British East India Company became the dominant power in India, and by 1858, it controlled three-fifths of the country’s territory, with 500 indigenous princely territories (i.e., native states) outside the British zone. After the Indian National Revolt, the British government took over the British Territory, outside of which there were still 562 native states (Quigley, 1966). This, coupled with five major religions, four castes, and thousands of sub-castes, makes India so different from other nation-states that it has been difficult to make direct comparisons with other nation-states in terms of the economic and social significance of its total population. Understanding India’s history is key to understanding whether India can replace China as the new “demographic dividend pool” for the West in the future.

The Demographic Dividend and the East Asian Miracle

Demographers have interpreted the high and then low fertility rates of the first countries as a “demographic transition”. The French demographer A. Landry and the American demographer Frank Notestein both proposed the demographic transition theory in the first half of the 20th century. Economic growth due to improved agricultural technology and industrialization answered Malthus’s concern about the ability to support a larger population. But explaining the decline in fertility has always been a difficult part of demographic research.

The term “fertility” can simply be understood as the number of babies a woman can expect to have during her lifetime. Demographic research generally assumes that a country’s fertility rate of 2.1 is necessary to maintain the total population size. If it falls below 2.1, it will eventually lead to a reduction in the total population.

Before World War II, the fertility rates of the pioneer countries in Europe and the United States had already declined significantly. From 1950 to 1970, the total fertility rate in Western Europe rebounded from 2.39 to 2.47, and even the United Kingdom rebounded from 2.18 to 2.57 (UN data (2019)). The main reasons for the post-war baby boom include the wealth boom created by high post-war economic growth, the fact that most men and women of marriageable age married at this time, and the fact that the social status of the couple in the family was more or less established (the male breadwinner model) (Hamm & Seitz & Werding, 2008). More important reasons may also include the welfarization of Western society brought about by the rise of global left-wing political power around World War II, and the pressure on the West from the postwar socialist camp’s welfare system.

But the baby boom seems to be a one-generation affair.

On the one hand, fertility rates in the pioneering countries soon entered a downward spiral again. The reasons for this were manifold, including those resulting from industrialization and urbanization: rising age at first marriage, rising female age at first birth, higher parenting standards, the prevalence of divorce and living alone, and other economic pressures (Hamm & Seitz & Werding, 2008). It is worth noting that the weakening of the Western postwar welfare system, which developed as a result of economic stagflation from the 1980s onward, apparently also contributed to the rapid decline in fertility after the baby boom. By 1990, the total fertility rate had fallen to 1.57 in Western Europe and to 1.91 in the United States, down from 3.31 in 1950, and major European countries had entered aging societies before World War II, with the United States having more than 10% of its population over 65 years of age by 1972, and by the 1990s, all Western European countries had largely entered “super-aging societies” (Table 1). “(Table 1). On the other hand, the deterioration of the economic situation due to the dramatic changes in the Soviet Union also caused the fertility rate in Central and Eastern European countries to decline rapidly from a general rate of over 2.0 in 1975 to about 1.3 in 1995 (Beer & Wissen, 1999).

After the end of the Cold War, the East Asian economic miracle received increasing attention from Europe and the U.S. In 1993, the World Bank published a study entitled The East Asian Miracle: Economic Growth and Public Policy, which highlighted the importance of capital accumulation, emphasis on education The World Bank published a study titled The East Asian Miracle: Economic Growth and Public Policy, highlighting the role of capital accumulation, emphasis on education, agricultural policies, and government-private sector cooperation in the rise of East Asian economies.

Demographers also have their own perceptions of the rise of East Asian economies. According to Toshio Kuroda, a demographer at the University of Japan, Japan’s high economic growth (since the 1970s) is closely related to two demographic factors: first, the low dependency ratio due to the rapid decline in the birth rate and slow aging in Japan at that time; second, the population born during Japan’s postwar “baby boom” has become the working-age population during the period of high economic growth. The working-age population has provided abundant labor resources for Japan’s economic development. (Toshio Kuroda, 1993)

In 1997, Bloom and Williamson, two Harvard economists, published a research paper suggesting that the East Asian miracle occurred in part because of a demographic transition in East Asia that led to a significantly faster growth in the working-age population than in the dependent population between 1965 and 1990, thereby expanding the per capita productive capacity of East Asian economies. They argue that demographic shifts contributed about 1/3 of the economic growth of East Asian economies during this period (Bloom & Williamson, 1997).

In fact, Chinese demographers also determined in 1994 that China had a “golden population age structure” with a low population burden and an abundant labor supply, and recognized at that time that this structure would last for about 40 years (Zhang, 1994).

In 2000, the OECD published the report “Innovative Societies in the 21st Century” (OECD, 2000), suggesting that in the 50 years after 2000, the number of labor force in developed countries will decline, while the labor force in developing countries will grow rapidly. This “demographic dividend” period will provide an important opportunity for developing countries to bridge the economic divide.

In December 2001, after a long and difficult negotiation, China officially joined the WTO, taking advantage of the world’s largest prime age population at that time, and began to shift the miracle of East Asia from Japan, the Four Little Dragons and the Four Little Tigers to mainland China. In the year before China’s accession, the entire working-age population of Japan and the Four Little Dragons and Four Little Tigers combined was less than half of China’s working-age population (Table 9).

Bicentennial of Aging: China's Population in the Light of Globalization

Table 9: Source: UN data (2019)

The above data explain from a demographic point of view that China’s accession to the WTO will not only benefit the country, but will also allow the world (especially the first-mover countries) to share China’s cheap labor advantage. Obviously, the first European and American pioneers, who experienced the complete demographic wave first, will eventually find it difficult to refuse to integrate China into the global system through their 200-year-long observation and in-depth study. The world’s factory, based on China’s “cheap labor”, has been able to keep global prices of essential goods low for the past 20 years, and to buy a large number of products from or accept investments in the first countries, allowing the first countries to keep inflation low, which also allows them to continue to invest more capital accumulation in the aging and super-aging societies as they enter them. able to continue to invest more capital accumulation in STI, rather than using this accumulation earlier to consolidate their social welfare such as pensions.

In 2002, Bloom and three other scholars published a book entitled The Demographic Dividend, which further discussed the demographic dividend from the perspective of labor supply and human capital (Bloom & Canning Sevilla, 2002). Subsequently, there has been an increase in the number of studies on the demographic dividend in China. Studies in demographic economics show that the advantage of the golden age structure alone does not necessarily have a positive effect on economic development; good education, labor market, macroeconomic environment, openness, and social cohesion are all necessary conditions.

IV. The past and future of the new Chinese population

Today’s public opinion is anxious about the decline of China’s total population, which would have been unthinkable 20 or 30 years ago. The concern about aging has gradually turned into a one-sided questioning of what was once a population policy as a whole. How the demographic structure of the new China was formed and evolved into what it is today requires a search for answers from history.

Aging is the result of a demographic transition, a process that every industrialized country goes through. To understand the aging of a country, one has to look back to the beginning of its industrialization. The demographic evolution of each industrialized country has both common trends and individual characteristics.

Compared to other pioneering countries, the most characteristic feature of China’s industrialization is that, in the process of migration from agriculture to industry, the peasants were not directly “workerized”, but formed a unique system of migrant workers while retaining the agricultural land in their hometowns. This greatly reduced the cost of industrialization in China and prevented a large number of landless people from having no way out when the problems of the industrialization cycle arose. Obviously, it is difficult to draw the most explanatory conclusions without observing and thinking in terms of the unique system of industrialization in the new China.

Almost all other European pioneers followed the British precedent of industrializing their peasants directly into the cities or sending them to the colonies, without retaining their peasant identity and land. The historical European proletariat came in large numbers from the class of peasants who had lost their land to industrialization and entered the cities to survive. Due to the problems of the post-industrial cycle, the urban proletarians lived in greater poverty than the peasants and had to unite in struggle for security and rights in times of economic recession and mass unemployment. The political struggle in post-industrial Europe manifested itself for a long time as a struggle between left-wing workers’ parties and right-wing conservative parties.

The United States differed from Europe in that the New World had vast lands and abundant resources compared to the overcrowding caused by the European population explosion. 12,505,900 people were in the labor force in 1870, of which 5,922,500 were in agriculture, accounting for 47.36% of the agricultural population (Martin, 1874). At that time, the American farming class was generally poor due to the effects of railroad monopolies, price suppression by middlemen, and the crop lien system (crop mortgage). However, the American peasant class did not lose their land, and they fought for their rights by means of peasant political movements. The Sherman Antitrust Act in the United States is actually the result obtained by the American farmers’ political movement (MUFON, 2020). Therefore, the industrialization process in the United States did not gain industrial labor by suppressing the peasant class to dispossess them of their land, as was the case in Europe, which led to the fact that the workers’ movement in the United States was not as intense as in Europe thereafter.

The industrialization of the new China was based on “poverty and whiteness”. “By the end of 1949, the population of mainland China had reached 541 million, surpassing 662 million in 1960 and growing rapidly to 829 million by 1970 (Table 10). However, the rural share of China’s population remained above 80% until the 1980s.

Bicentennial of Aging: China's Population in the Light of Globalization

Table 10. source: China Statistical Yearbook 2020

The rapid population growth after the establishment of New China was once attributed to the development and implementation of policies to encourage population fertility. However, studies in recent years have put forward a different view (Peng, 2009). Taken together, the rapid population growth in the period after the founding of the country may have been due to several factors.

First, like the “baby boom” in Europe and the United States, China was experiencing a peaceful post-war environment. Second, the policy propaganda encouraged childbearing, and there was a lack of low-cost access to birth control methods and measures. Third, the cost of raising children in rural areas was low, and under the system of material rationing and rural “work credits,” there was an incentive to have more children. Fourth, family planning decisions suffered setbacks in the context of the Great Leap Forward (Peng Caidong, 2018). The fifth is the influence of traditional fertility concepts.

Although hundreds of millions of people were considered “dividends” before China’s accession to the WTO, these “dividends” were real until the necessary education was completed, a mobile labor market was established, and enough industrialized jobs were available. Demographic pressures, in terms of food, resources, and employment, are real.

The serious food problems of the early 1960s made the need for population control increasingly urgent, and the 1962 Instruction on Seriously Promoting Family Planning proposed “birth control in cities and densely populated rural areas”; the 1973 policy of “late, sparse, and few”; and the 1980 Policy on Birth Control. In 1980, the “Open Letter to All Communist Party Members and Communist Youth League Members on Controlling China’s Population Growth” proposed “one child”; in 1982, the 12th National Congress determined that “the implementation of family planning is a basic state policy of China “.

When the one-child policy was strictly implemented in the early 1980s, China’s population had already exceeded one billion. At this time, the “three to one supplement” in the Pearl River Delta region became popular, and China began to gradually integrate into the global economic system. Township enterprises emerged simultaneously. At that time, sociologists had already started to pay attention to the group of “workers and farmers” (Meng Chen and Zou Nongjian, 1985). The ensuing demand for urbanized real estate infrastructure began to absorb labor, and urbanization itself created new consumer demand and more new jobs. However, in the face of the world’s largest population size, relying on fledgling internal demand was still not enough to absorb employment.

China’s accession to the WTO is the result of a two-way choice based on demographic considerations. First-mover countries (especially their multinationals) need more cheap labor and emerging market opportunities overseas, while China needs enough productive jobs from overseas demand. China’s “demographic dividend” is actually the real “ballast” of China’s economic and trade relations with Europe and the United States; China’s “demographic dividend period” is the real “honeymoon period” between China and Europe and the United States. “honeymoon period”.

Each system’s trade-off will lead to different paths and different results. When we used the migrant labor system to adapt to industrialization under the premise of massive population, we enjoyed a low-cost burden and avoided a large number of urban drifters in the economic down cycle. However, accordingly, the migrant worker class formed during the period of rapid population expansion, when they collectively age, the whole society has to suffer at least three consequences.

First, migrant workers, as a mobile population, significantly reduce their possibility of having children. Demographic studies show that the fertility rate of the urban migrant population is not only lower than that of the rural resident population, but also lower than that of the urban resident population (Chen, Wei, and Wu, Lili, 2006). most of China’s new population from 1949 to 1979 was realized in rural areas (Zhang, 1988), and since then the fertility rate of the rural population is even lower than that of the urban resident population due to their mobility out to participate in industrialization, a This problem is unique to China.

Second, social security for older migrant workers will sooner or later become a problem. Under the system of migrant workers, the social security system applicable to them is different from that of urban employed persons because they retain their status and land. Urban employed people use social insurance as their basic pension and medical protection. Migrant workers, on the other hand, rely mainly on their own savings and the support of their children for their old-age security. For many people, it is not enough.

Third, the second generation of migrant workers must choose between integrating into the city and returning to their hometowns. However, the possibility of returning to their hometowns for farming is very low, so cities (towns) must absorb them, and currently they are mostly treated as flexible workers. However, this group will not be able to rely on the land in their hometowns after the economic downturn or old age as their parents did, which means that the real urbanization of migrant workers will be completed during their second generation. This also means that the advantage of low-cost industrialization brought by the migrant labor system is gradually becoming a thing of the past.

At present, domestic strategic suggestions for raising the fertility rate mainly include: fully liberalizing fertility restrictions; providing fertility subsidies, guaranteeing parenting time, forming a socialized system of raising children, and so on. All of these proposals, except for the liberalization of fertility restrictions, are simply repeating measures that have already been adopted by the pioneer countries. They did not experience China’s particular industrialization process, nor did they produce China’s particular industrialized demographic structure.

In fact, the strategies used by the European and American pioneers to increase fertility have largely been ineffective. France and Sweden are the two pioneer countries with the most pronounced effects, with very high welfare costs, and they were themselves the first two countries in the world to enter an aging society (Table 1). Although measures to increase fertility are indispensable, the European and American pioneers have largely accepted the need to rely on immigration systems to fill their population gaps in the long run, and even European countries have begun to pay attention to fertility decline among the second generation of immigrants (Nadja Milewski, 2010). Japan, on the other hand, has apparently accepted a future in which the population reaches a new equilibrium after shrinking.

In almost all publicly discussed strategies, there is no proposed strategy for China’s industrialized demographic expansion itself. What is clear is that the biggest difference between China and the pioneer countries of Europe and the United States is that the status quo of migrant workers inhibits a significant portion of the possibility of fertility. The strategies used by the pioneer countries to raise fertility in urban populations adopted to China’s first- and second-tier cities are likely to yield similar results in that it will be difficult to make substantial gains in the country’s total fertility rate even at great welfare costs.

The main reasons for fertility suppression in China’s first- and second-tier cities are urbanization itself, i.e., pressure on housing prices, job-support options, and the high age of marriage and childbearing. If the mobile population under the migrant labor system can urbanize smoothly and stabilize in small and medium-sized cities and towns, then this fertility demand may be effectively released. On the contrary, some scholars hope that the continued expansion of mega-cities to increase fertility by solving the urban accommodation problem will only make the siphoning effect of metropolitan areas more pronounced, with the result that individual large cities will continue to benefit by siphoning off young populations from other regions, which is tantamount to quenching one’s thirst.

Ultimately, if the goal is to increase fertility, it must be a choice and a trade-off in terms of welfare costs. Given the relatively certain welfare costs that can be spent, the choice ultimately needs to be made whether to follow the “experience” of the European and American pioneers or to respond to China’s own circumstances.

In addition to the above suggestions, which differ from popular opinion, this paper would like to point out in particular that the “honeymoon period” between China and Europe and the United States will be over as China ages irreversibly and rapidly. Regardless of how China responds to the aging problem, the construction of a welfare system and the corresponding cost increases are inevitable, and the working-age population will become smaller and smaller in the future, meaning that workers will have more and more bargaining power and 996 will become a thing of the past. Most critically, the reasons that once made Chinese products cheaper are disappearing, which means that the main reason for depressing inflation of basic living goods in the pioneering countries is also disappearing. The aging of China will not only affect China itself, but also the financial systems of the advanced countries.

The days when Europe and the United States enjoyed the “Chinese demographic dividend” without having to increase their welfare costs will also become a thing of the past, which will affect the investment in innovation in Europe and the United States. If China chooses to follow the example of the early adopters and use its aging accumulation to invest in science and technology innovation (the so-called second demographic dividend), this will also lead to further competition between China and the early adopters in science and technology innovation.

The first-mover countries will also follow their precedent and look for the next “demographic dividend pool” to replace China with an “Indo-Pacific strategy”. Currently, only Africa and India can rival China in terms of population size. If Europe and the United States want to alienate themselves from China and continue to maintain the socio-economic structure and welfare system they have had since industrialization, the only ones they can rely on are South and Southeast Asia. But as demographic studies have shown, simply having a large population is not necessarily a “demographic dividend”. Which side is better able to take advantage of future overseas resources will depend on the future overseas competitiveness of companies in different countries.

At this point in time, the fundamental issue facing the next generation or two is no longer the competition between countries, but the question of whether the socio-economic structure of mankind since industrialization and globalization needs to be significantly adjusted. Returning to aging, in any case, we should pay more attention to those who are already alive than to those who may be born; we should all be more concerned with letting economic development meet human needs rather than letting people become the means and parts of economic development.

Perhaps a complete cycle would be from England’s population expansion to China’s population contraction.


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This article is from WeChat: The_sun_also_rise, by Mu Feng

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