06/14/2018, 15.56
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Italy should learn from China to deal with an aging population

by Bernardo Cervellera

Italy’s demographic situation is grim. Its population shrunk by 3.2 per cent in a year. Those over 65 are now 22.3 per cent. China too has 158.31 million people over 65 (11.4 per cent). Aging undermines the workforce and pushes up social costs, undermining innovation, creativity, consumption, perspectives and hope. Beijing is thinking of removing all limits to the number of children. Demographers suggest a 10,000-yuan annual bonus for each new born. The goal is to avoid stagnation.

Rome (AsiaNews) – The steady aging of Italy’s population should alarm the country’s politicians and businesses. It should push them to take a look at what happens in other places and learn from them, even from China, which until a few years ago had the most radical population control policy.

The latest data released by Italy’s statistical institute (ISTAT) are grim. In 2017 the Italian population decreased by 3.2 per cent. Only 458,000 births were recorded (15,000 less than in 2016) against 650,000 deaths (34,000 more than the previous year). This represents a drop of more than 100,000 people. People over 65 now represent 22.3 per cent.

China is also experiencing a demographic crunch as its population ages. In 2017 there were fewer births than the previous year: 17,23 million instead of 17.86 million (in 2016).

According to China’s National Statistics Bureau, in 2017 the population over 65 stood at 158.31 million, or 11.4 per cent. Ten years before it was 7 per cent. At the same time, the workforce – those aged between 16 and 59 – shrunk by more than 5 million.

This situation is the consequence of decades of the ruthless and methodical application of the one-child policy that prevented the birth of 400 million children, this according to the data from the Office of Population Control.

It is well known that the law has led to violations of human rights, high fines, forced sterilisations and abortions and a male-to-female imbalance as parents resorted to selective abortions of female foetuses.

In Italy, population decline is due to the large number of abortions and the use of abortion as a method of population control. The ever-increasing pace of work, a consumerist mind-set and poverty have also contributed to the trend.

Recently the Chinese government granted couples the “right” to have two children, and yet people still opt for one or no children because having and raising a child requires a lot in time and money.

According to the World Health Organisation, a society begins to age when those over 65 exceed 7 per cent of the population. China and Italy have already far exceeded that threshold.

An aging population means higher public spending on health and pensions. It also means fewer young people, i.e. the ones who bring innovation, creativity, consumption, perspectives and hopes.

In China, many are worried about the trend. Activists and demographers are pressing to remove every barrier to the number of children a couple can have and a commission of the State Council is studying what to do.

Entrepreneur and scholar James Liang is one of those who would like to see restrictions lifted. In his latest book, The Demographics of Innovation, he notes that the aging of the population influences the capacity for inventiveness, creativity and economic development.

For this reason, he wants the government to end limits on the number of children a couple can have as well as pay for the expenses of each new born with bonuses of 10,000 yuan per year (about US$ 1,560) to families. For Liang, without some action the risk for China is that it will stop. In his view, the current economic crisis in Japan is due precisely to demographic trends, namely the aging of the population.

Italy too runs the risk of stopping. To prevent this, entrepreneurs and politicians should support mothers, both culturally and economically, not on "pro-life" grounds - which are fundamental - but for pragmatic reasons, to sustain development and innovation.

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