China is planning to raise its retirement age in a groundbreaking shift as it bids to head off the increasing pressure on pension budgets from an ageing population, the state-backed Global Times said on Tuesday.
Jin Weigang, president of the Chinese Academy of Labor and Social Security, said China was eyeing a “progressive, flexible and differentiated path to raising the retirement age”.
“People nearing retirement age will only have to delay retirement for several months,” the Global Times said, citing Jin. Young people may have to work a few years longer but will have a long adaptation and transition period, he said.
“The most important feature of the reform is allowing people to choose when to retire according to their circumstances and conditions.”
China has yet to formally announce a change to its retirement age, which is among the lowest in the world at 60 for men, 55 for white-collar women and 50 for women who work in factories.
Li Qiang, the country’s new premier, said on Monday that the government would conduct rigorous studies and analyses to roll out a policy prudently in discourse.
As China’s 1.4 billion population declines and ages, in part because of a policy that limited couples to one child from 1980 to 2015, pressure on pension budgets is escalating, creating more urgency for policymakers to address the situation.
China’s National Health Commission expects the cohort of people aged 60 and over to rise from 280 million to more than 400 million by 2035 – equal to the entire current populations of Britain and the United States combined.
Life expectancy has risen from around 44 years in 1960 to 78 years as of 2021, higher than in the United States, and is projected to exceed 80 years by 2050.
At present, each retiree is supported by the contributions of five workers. The ratio is half what it was a decade ago and is trending towards 4-to-1 in 2030 and 2-to-1 in 2050.
Demographers and economists say that the current pension system, which relies on a shrinking active workforce to pay the pensions of a growing number of retirees, is unsustainable and needs to be reformed.
Eleven of China’s 31 provincial-level jurisdictions are running pension budget deficits, finance ministry data show. The state-run Chinese Academy of Sciences sees the pension system running out of money by 2035.
- Reuters with additional editing by Sean O’Meara