China’s low fertility may not hinder future prosperity

Guillaume Marois, Stuart Gietel-Basten, Wolfgang Lutz

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    28 Scopus citations


    China’s low fertility is often presented as a major factor which will hinder its prosperity in the medium to long term. This is based on the assumed negative consequences of an increasing old-age dependency ratio: a simplistic measure of relative changing age structures. Based on this view, policies to increase fertility are being proposed after decades of birth restriction policies. Here, we argue that a purely age structure–based reasoning which disregards labor force participation and education attainment may be highly misleading. While fertility has indeed fallen to low levels, human capital accumulation has been very strong—especially among younger cohorts. Factoring in the effects of labor force participation and educational attainment on productivity, a measure called “productivity-weighted labor force dependency ratio” can more accurately capture the economic implications of demographic change. When using this ratio, a much more optimistic picture of the economic (and social) future of China can be envisaged.

    Original languageBritish English
    Article numbere2108900118
    JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
    Issue number40
    StatePublished - 5 Oct 2021


    • Aging
    • China
    • Dependency ratio
    • Fertility
    • Human capital


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