China’s New Demographic Challenge: From Unlimited Supply of Labour to Structural Lack of Labour Supply. Labour market and demographic scenarios: 2008-2048
The paper focuses on the demographic and labour market consequences of the dramatic decline in fertility that has characterized China starting at the beginning of the ‘50s. It is shared opinion that a sustained decline in fertility below replacement level will provoke a decline in Total population, an even more pronounced decline in Working age population and very relevant ageing phenomena. I have recently shown that, on the contrary and coherently with empirical evidence, a decline in fertility provokes a structural lack of labour supply that determines positive migration balances and, finally, positive demographic trends. The paper applies the same approach to China with similar results. The decline in fertility, determined by the process of economic development and its impact on education and urbanization, but promoted also trough the one-child policy, will provoke a relevant and growing structural lack of labour supply, even in the hypothesis that Chinese employment growth should sharply decline. The implication is that in order to continue its road to economic growth and social development, China will have to rely on large and growing migration flows that will determine a demographic expansion. In conclusion, the decline in fertility, actively pursued to set a ceiling to population growth, will end up provoking the opposite result. The uncertainty about the age structure of the Chinese population makes it impossible to determine in which year China will start to be affected by serious labour shortages. Our scenarios do however clearly show that China will reach the Lewis turning point in the next few years and before the middle of the century will become the world largest importer of labour. Our analysis does therefore clearly suggest that any legal restriction to fertility and territorial mobility is totally unwarranted, and that China should start to consider educational and labour policies aimed to mitigate labour shortages. It also indicates the necessity to start an in depth discussion of which immigration and social integration policies could better serve the interests of China, on the light both of the experiences of other countries, and of the role that China wants to play in the international arena.
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