This is definitely about to become the new ‘meme’ about China. Actually it is reasonably valid. China’s ‘demographic shocks’ which come principally from the great famine produced at the time of the cultural revolution, and then from the subsequent one-child policy, are undoubtedly going to have significant consequences. Today UK Tory front bench spokesman on Trade and Industry David Willetts has a piece on the topic in the FT (subscription only unfortunately):
One reason for Chinaâ€™s stellar growth is that it is at a demographic sweet-spot. The massive reduction in infant mortality achieved by Chinaâ€™s barefoot doctors in the 1960s and 1970s is now yielding a surge of young workers â€“ an extra 10m working-age adults per year. Chinaâ€™s challenge now is just to absorb them into the labour force. Add to that the massive population flow from the countryside and you can see why wages are low and growth is so fast. There are few pensioners and there are not many children either. The rabbit is indeed in the middle of the python.
If you are frustrated by your inability to read more, and are willing to hack it through a more academic paper on the same theme, then can I recommend “Demographic Dividend and prospects for economic development in China” by Wang Feng, of the University of California Irvine and Andrew Mason, of the University of Hawaii. The paper was presented at the recent (August 2005) UN experts meeting on ageing.
Update: New Economist has a fuller version of the Willets piece online.