China loses more than 40 mn workers in three years as population ages

China’s working-age population has declined by more than 41 million over the past three years, reflecting both the toll of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy and a decline in the working-age population.

According to the country’s Bureau of Statistics, about 733.5 million Chinese people were employed in 2022. This is down from 774.7 million in 2019. Data showing a sharp rise in the number of people retiring is likely to increase pressure on Beijing to accelerate unpopular plans to raise the official retirement age.

The drop reflects factors such as high youth unemployment due to the pandemic as well as the shrinking number of people in the “classic age group of the working-age population”, said Stuart Giettel-Basten, a demographer at the Hong Kong University of Science. and Technology.


The number of people aged 16 to 59 in China has been gradually decreasing since 2012. Over the past three years, that group’s numbers dropped by 38 million to 857.6 million — a much faster decline than in previous years.

Lu Feng, a labor economist at Peking University, said “demographic change” was the “driving factor” of the 2022 employment decline, as the population reaching age 60, which is a typical retirement age in China, was “dramatic.” increased substantially.”

China’s economic growth is expected to accelerate this year due to the end of coronavirus restrictions and a sharp decline in infections.

As a result, the number of people employed in China “may rise this year as people return to the workforce,” said Larry Hu, China economist at Macquarie Securities Ltd. “It will remain on a structural decline due to aging.” population.”

China’s retirement age has remained unchanged for more than four decades at 60 for men and 55 for female white-collar workers, even as life-expectancy has increased. China experienced a baby-boom during the 1960s, meaning that a large proportion of the workforce would fall out of the 16–59 age group during this decade.

The country’s ruling Communist Party has listed retirement age reform among its key economic tasks for the year. More details on the reform plans could be provided this month, when the annual government work report will be presented at the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress – China’s rubber-stamp parliament.

The strength of public opposition to any change was highlighted last month, when a research report by Citic Securities projected a rise in the retirement age for women starting in 2025 drew widespread criticism online.

China’s workforce has also become significantly more urbanized over the past decade, according to China’s Bureau of Statistics, a trend economists see as positive for economic growth. About 63% of the workforce was employed in urban areas last year, up from 50% a decade earlier.


China’s workers are also becoming more productive. Labor productivity – defined as gross domestic product produced per worker – is projected to increase by 4.2% in 2022, the statistics bureau said. However, it has slowed to a rate of about 6% per year in the 2010s.

Yu Jiadong, vice-minister of human resources and social security, told a briefing on Thursday that the reduction in China’s working-age population was driven by a growing number of retirees, adding that China has “the largest population of any developing country”. population and labor force. ,

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