- First, this trend is happening faster in China than elsewhere. The slice of the Chinese population made up of retirees will jump from less than 10 percent to a full quarter in just 25 years. In Western countries, this shift has taken place far more gradually, generally over a century or more. China will have far less time to adjust.
Second, it’s happening earlier on China’s development curve than any other major economy. In other words, China is growing old before it grows rich. When Japan reached the percentage of retirees China has now, per capita incomes were double those of China today. When South Korea crossed this threshold, incomes were nearly three times as high. This meant more money to sink into eldercare in aggregate, plus fewer one-child households left holding the bag. And even these countries are still struggling to cope with the rising social costs and economic stagnation tied to demographic decline.
Third, at least compared to Western countries, China has never been particularly receptive to immigration. The United States’ ability to attract and absorb immigrants is an enduring source of national strength, occasional political spasms over the issue notwithstanding. China has no tradition of attracting foreign immigrants; just 1,576 foreigners were granted permanent residency in China in 2016. And it’s unclear how the country’s rigid systems of social control would adapt to a major influx of outsiders.