China is an emerging market with a big developed economy problem

It’s no secret that many countries face looming demographics problems as their populations age.

Much has been written about developed markets like Japan, Germany, and Italy, which have the largest percentages of their populations aged 65 and up.

However, another country also deserves attention: China.

While the percentage of China’s population over the age of 65 may not be as large as that of Japan, South Korea, or various European countries, China’s enormous overall population (roughly one out of every five people on Earth) means that the total number of older people living in China is and will be much larger than in other countries.

In a recent report on the global ageing phenomenon, the US Census Bureau shared some comparisons between China’s over-65 population and the total population of several big developed markets:

  • In 2015, the number of older people in China (136.9 million) exceeded Japan’s total population (126.9 million).
  • By 2030, Japan and Egypt’s combined total projected populations (231.8 million) will be smaller than China’s projected 65-and-up population (238.8 million).
  • And by 2050, China’s projected older population (348.8 million) will be approximately equal to the combined total projected populations of Japan, Egypt, Germany, and Australia.

The Census Bureau report also included population pyramids, which illustrate the sex and age breakdown of a country’s population, for China in 2015 and 2050. The most striking thing in the charts is the huge growth in the over-65 category:

Another thing that stands out is the relatively small population of younger people, which is partially due to the one-child policy introduced in the late 1970s. And even though the government recently retired the one-child policy, the impact from that won’t be seen for some time.

This leads to worries about what this will mean for the country’s economy going forward — if these projections hold, there will be far more older residents who will likely want to retire, with fewer working-age citizens to support them. Moreover, ageing populations have generally been a problem that more developed markets like Japan have had to deal with, rather than emerging economies like China.

So, one could argue that China is basically an emerging market that is now struggling with a developed market problem.

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