Concerns over China’s shrinking workforce ‘overdone’

BEIJING (Xinhua) – The number of workers in China decreased in seven consecutive years but the shrinking working-age population should not cause concern, the China Daily reported yesterday.

Both the absolute number and the relative proportion of the working-age population – those 16 to 59 years – have been dropping. Last year there were 897 million people in China in that age group, down by 26 million from the peak in 2011, according to recent figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics.

But some demographers and economists said the prevailing anxiety over the shrinking workforce is exaggerated.

The downward trajectory gradually affected a wider range of labour-intensive sectors, such as catering and housekeeping services, as well as the conventional agricultural industry, Li Tongping, a population economist, was quoted as saying.

Though the speed and scale of China’s population shift and the subsequent changes in workforce volume are unprecedented, the change still fits the universal trajectory of population development, Li said.

Workers at a workshop of a medicine factory in Dingzhou City, north China’s Hebei Province. – XINHUA

President of the China Population Association Zhai Zhenwu said the sheer volume of the workforce in China is equivalent to that of all developed countries combined, and “currently, no labour shortage is in sight”.

“Workforce declines can be offset with improved productivity,” he said. “Through science and technological innovation, the country can scale back its dependence on workforce volume.”

Babatunde Ahonsi, United Nations Population Fund representative in China, said the linchpin of a country’s economy is labour productivity rather than the size of its workforce.

“With well-coordinated actions from the government, the private sector and civil organisations, China will continue to be a key driver of sustainable development,” he said.