China is growing older.  To be sure, the populations of other countries, especially developed economies and China’s northeast Asian neighbors, Japan and South Korea, are also turning grey.  But this process has unfolded with exceptional speed in China.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO),[1] an economy enters into its “aging” phase when the share of the population aged 65 or older exceeds 7%.  China reached that demographic yardstick in 1998[2] and by 2023, the share of Chinese aged over 65 had more than doubled, rising to 15.4%.[3]   WHO estimates[4] that by 2040, China will have 402 million people aged over 60, up from 254 million in 2019.  As Professor Sabrina Luk of Nanyang Technology University told Business Insider,[5] “China became an aging society in 1999.  It will become an aged society by 2026, and a super-aged society by 2047.”

This shift in the age profile of China is occurring alongside a fall in its population.  According to official Chinese Government data,[6] the population of China dropped by 2.08 million people in 2023, with the number of death (11 million) exceeding the number of births (9 million).  That fall followed a population decline of 850,000 people in 2022.  This trend is set to continue, due to declining fertility rates—the fertility rate is the number of children a woman will give birth to over her lifetime—among Chinese women.  Those rates have fallen from 1.5 birth per woman in the 1990s to 1.15 in 2021,[7] well under the replacement rate of 2.1 needed for a country to sustain its population.  The UN therefore forecasts[8] that the Chinese population will fall from 1.426 billion in 2022 to 1.31 billion by 2050 under a so-called “medium variant” that assumes, among other things, a fertility rate for Chinese women that stays constant at 1.18.  It is worth noting that the Chinese population still declines, albeit more modestly, even when the UN assumes that China’s fertility rate rises from 1.18 per woman in 2022 to 1.48 in 2100.