How to make active aging an integral part of economic growth in China

  • China is a rapidly aging country, with people aged 60 or over reaching 267 million or 18.9% of the total population, and that could reach a third of the population before 2050.
  • Welfare reform must go hand in hand with social policy to make active aging an integral part of economic growth, linking health to wealth and shared prosperity.
  • Health care, workforce reskilling and gender parity are three domestic policy priority areas to address the challenges of China’s aging population.

As the world’s second largest economy in 2022, China faces both the challenges and opportunities brought by the fourth industrial revolution. It presents a case where the demographic challenges of an aging population and gender disparity can be successfully addressed through the measured use of digital technology as the country continues its transition to a new, greener and more focused economy. on the data. Health care, re-skilling of the workforce and gender parity are three priority areas of domestic policy.

Vision 2025: Growing together, prospering

To address all of the interrelated challenges facing China, a vision of inclusive and sustainable growth that pays particular attention to the elderly and women must be defined.

China is a rapidly aging country, with people aged 60 or over reaching 267 million, or 18.9% of the total population, which could reach a third before 2050. With a declining fertility rate and an age of early retirement, the existing social infrastructure will be increasingly strained. Overhauling the welfare system is essential for China to maintain its competitiveness and the well-being of its citizens. One solution to China’s aging population is upgrading health services to become more integrated, age-friendly, and focused on wellness. Importantly, social protection reform must go hand in hand with social policy to make active aging an integral part of economic growth, linking health to wealth and shared prosperity.

Along the same lines, workforce re-skilling should be a priority for the older workforce and for those who face employment risk due to automation. Older workers in China face persistent barriers to employment, especially in information technology industries. Retraining does not just improve the employability of the older workforce. It also improves the quality of the workforce as a whole, which will better serve China’s economic restructuring and its continued rise in the global value chain.

The challenge of China’s aging population cannot be met without improving women’s well-being. The fertility rate should never be just a target number, even though China’s birth rate hit an all-time high in 2021. Rather, it should reflect women’s willingness and ability to start families based on their choices. free and enlightened. Social policy and related legal institutions need to be put in place. Equal pay, fair entry and re-entry into the labor market, freedom from harassment and access to legal remedies are among the essential elements of this picture.

Pathways to Vision 2025

To achieve the vision described above, here are three courses of action to follow:

1. A new healthcare system for an aging economy

Upgrading the health system involves two steps. First, health care should go beyond the treatment of physical illnesses to include mental health, occupational health, full-cycle care and wellness. In line with China’s national strategy on active aging, health services should integrate key elements such as preventive care and the scientific use of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The pandemic notwithstanding, appropriate resources must also be allocated to the research and treatment of chronic non-communicable diseases.

Second, the COVID-19 experience in China has demonstrated the power of digital technology to rapidly improve the quality and efficiency of healthcare. The same should be leveraged for healthcare, in general, to achieve the integration of medical data and services both vertically and horizontally across institutions at all levels. Measures should also be taken to achieve parity in the distribution of medical resources between regions.

2. Re-skilling of the workforce for wider participation in the digital economy

Along with improving health care, legal and institutional measures should be implemented to eliminate age discrimination in the workplace and promote flexible and age-friendly working arrangements. Short-term retraining programmes, including those adapted to the digital economy, should be made more accessible to all, including seniors. Digital literacy should be as important for young adults as it is for seniors. Awareness campaigns and training modules on anti-ageism are also desirable for employers. As the “silver economy” accounts for a large and growing share, these measures will improve the overall digital readiness of the Chinese economy.

3. Healthy population growth starts with women’s rights

No population growth can be achieved in a sustainable way without ensuring affordable access to health care, childcare, education and employment opportunities for women. Closing the gender gap in China needs to be pursued in multiple directions, from medical infrastructure to social and social policy, labor law and cultural norms.

Free or affordable childcare must be made available to all working women in China, both for public and private employers. Public awareness campaigns should advocate for an equitable distribution of childcare and household chores for spouses and male partners. Additionally, fertility technology remains a largely underutilized industry in China, largely due to lagging legal provisions. It should be a top priority for lawmakers and policymakers to ensure that Chinese women have easy access to artificial reproductive therapies (ART), including egg freezing services. This will meet an urgent need among millions of people in China, as it will stimulate a multitude of business opportunities. Lessons from advanced economies where some employers offer ART grants to employees would be illuminating.

Members of the Global Future Council on China who contributed to the article:

Yuan Jiakai, Vice President and Chief Representative, China, United Way Worldwide

Edward Tse, Founder and Managing Director, Gao Feng Advisory Company

Li Xin, General Manager of Caixin Global, Caixin Media

Liu Qian, Managing Director, Greater China, The Economist Group

Kishore Mahbubani, Distinguished Fellow, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore

Xue Lan, Dean, Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University

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