How to take a comprehensive view of the demographic challenges facing China

【Guangming Forum】

  Prior to the release of the seventh census data, the topic of population has attracted attention from time to time. Views such as "the birth population will be low again", "the population is about to grow negatively", and "the aging process is accelerating" have been popular. "It even rushed to the social media hot topic list.

After that, the official news of "my country's population will continue to grow in 2020" has played a certain role in relieving the population anxiety that seems to pervade the whole people, but it still seems unable to reverse the trend of the whole people's population anxiety.

  So, how should we view China's demographic changes and related issues?

In addition to the continuing decline in the birth rate, what concerns have been intentionally or unintentionally ignored?

From a longer perspective, how should China deal with the population problem?

  Is the decline in the birth rate an inevitable economic and social development?

To some extent, the answer is yes, at least from the perspective of humanity’s nearly 200-year history of industrial civilization.

In the 1840s, the first industrial revolution was initiated in the United Kingdom. The population growth rate in Britain began to slow down in the 1870s. The process of population transformation in Western countries almost completely followed the trajectory of the spread of industrial civilization.

In 1909, French demographer Landry used Western European population data to describe the evolution of the population from "high mortality and high birth rate" to "low mortality and low birth rate", and laid the prototype of the classic demographic transition theory.

The important point is that driven by economic factors, in order to maintain a higher standard of living, people have begun to consciously restrict childbirth.

At present, the footprint of industrial civilization is all over the world, and the affected countries have begun demographic transformation without exception, and fertility rates have fallen.

According to the "World Population Prospects" published by the United Nations, the total fertility rates of high-income, middle-income, and low-income countries according to national income levels are 1.67, 2.35, and 4.52, respectively.

  The mechanisms by which industrialization and modernization promote the decline in fertility are complex and diverse.

With the popularization of reproductive health knowledge and the improvement of medical technology, the availability of contraception and birth control technology has been greatly improved.

More importantly, changes in production and consumption patterns have weakened family functions, reversed the direction of wealth flow between generations, and made having more children become an irrational thing.

The reproduction of the population has shifted from an extensive type pursuing quantity to an exquisite type pursuing quality, which finally makes people autonomously limit the size of the family to achieve the improvement of the average welfare level of family members.

Women’s employment and education opportunities have rapidly increased, along with the rise in social status, which has promoted the awakening of individual consciousness and strengthened the family’s rational choice of the number of children.

  Therefore, the countries that promote industrialization and modernization all over the world are facing the risk of declining fertility rates, and China cannot avoid it.

People hope that the population policy that encourages childbirth will boost the willingness of society to bear children. Unfortunately, many scholars’ studies have shown that the effects of policies that encourage childbirth in developed countries are not as good as expected.

First, the sustainability of policy effects is questionable. Many studies have shown that economic incentives such as maternity subsidies and child allowances have shortened the birth interval, but have not changed people's ideal number of children.

Second, although generous family welfare policies were once considered to have played an important role in maintaining a stable fertility level, they have also put a heavy burden on public finances, and high welfare policies have been constantly criticized.

  How can China promote the realization of an adequate fertility level?

"Do your best, do what you can" or a more appropriate choice.

On the one hand, China should optimize its fertility policy as soon as possible, return independent reproductive rights to families and individuals, accelerate the integration of fertility policies and economic and social policies, and create a policy environment and cultural environment that is child-friendly, child-friendly, and family-friendly, and strive to support the need for childbearing On the other hand, to increase family support, while reducing the cost of childbirth, parenting and education, they also have to take into account the ability of public finances at all levels to pay and do what they can. After all, they rely on many public finances. The people's livelihood field still needs to increase expenditure.

  Look cautiously, "fewer births" and "aging" are the unavoidable trends of China's population. Only by adhering to the national innovation strategy, driving the upgrading of industrial structure, and tapping the second "demographic dividend" can we hedge the impact of population aging on society. The negative impact of economic development.

In the context of the increasing burden of the aging population, the source of the “demographic dividend” has changed from the number of laborers to the quality of the labor force. Therefore, it is necessary to increase labor productivity in exchange for a decline in labor input, and rely on technological innovation to prevent the possible weakening of industrial competitiveness .

  To tap the second "demographic dividend", we must first enhance human capital.

The improvement of population health and education quality is also a significant feature of my country's current population development.

According to data from the National Health Commission, the main health indicators of Chinese residents in 2020 are ranked in the forefront of middle-high-income countries.

Moreover, China has built the world's largest higher education system, and more than half of the new labor force has a higher education degree.

Facing the long-term needs of social and economic development, the in-depth implementation of the strategy of rejuvenating the country through science and education and the strategy of strengthening the country through talents will be an important guarantee for China to reap the second "demographic dividend" in the new stage of development.

  To tap the second "demographic dividend", it is even more necessary to establish an innovative industrial structure.

Since the "Twelfth Five-Year Plan" period, under the background of profound changes in the economic development environment and factor supply conditions, China has continuously promoted supply-side structural reforms, and the industrial structure has gradually shifted from labor-intensive, resource-processing, and heavy-chemical industries to capital , Technology, and knowledge-intensive.

Grasping the development opportunities of the new round of scientific and technological revolution and realizing the coordinated development of talents, industries, and science and technology is China's "decisive weapon" for responding to the challenge of population aging.

(Author: Yang Ge, special researcher of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Xi Jinping Thoughts on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era, and Associate Researcher of the Institute of Population and Labor Economics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)