- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - China’s rapidly aging population threatens the country’s social and economic stability and could affect the prospects of other countries around the world, a U.S. study says.

The current ratio of 16 elderly people per 100 workers is set to double by 2025, then double again to 61 by 2050, according to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

By 2050, there will be 438 million Chinese aged 60 and over, said the study, jointly produced with the Prudential Foundation. Of those, 103 million Chinese will be 80 or older.

China, however, remains a relatively poor country and only about one out of three urban workers has any sort of pension coverage, the report said. The burden of supporting the growing number of elderly would pass to a proportionately shrinking working population.

By the 2020s, demographic trends may be “weakening the two principal pillars of the government’s political legitimacy _ rapidly rising living standards and social stability,” the report said.

The expansion of China’s elderly population is being fueled both by an increase in life expectancy from 41 to 73 over five decades, and by family planning policies that limit most families to a single child.

Despite recent rapid economic growth, however, most Chinese remain relatively poor. Per capita income in China was $4,088 in 2005 _ three times less than in Japan, South Korea and the United States, the report said. In that year, those four countries had approximately the same proportion of elderly.

To avert disaster, the report urged China to set up a universal pension system to cover all elderly, no matter where they live or whether they had participated in the contributory public pension system.

“The floor of protection would spare tens of millions of elders from a destitute old age and might even avert widespread social and political unrest in an aging China,” it said.

China’s failure to do so could produce global shock waves because due to Beijing’s economic heft and increasing international integration, the report said.

“China is a lynchpin in the global economy. How it confronts its age wave will have profound implications for its own future and for the future of countries around the world.”

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On the Net:

CSIS report http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/090422_gai_chinareport_en.pdf

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