China’s Biggest Problem Isn’t Lack of Babies

Alan Trapulionis
11 min readJul 26, 2022
Xi Jinping revived a cult of personality unseen since the days of Mao. Photo by Global Panorama via Flickr (Creative Commons 2.0)

There are two types of people when it comes to China: those who preach its imminent collapse, and those who preach its inevitable rise to global superpower.

Fortunately, both of these groups are wrong.

Rex Wang, a former Taiwan diplomat, falls into the first category. He wrote an entire book called “China Will Collapse In 2031.”

This idea is not new. People have been predicting China’s collapse ever since its GDP started showing signs of life, and the genre became consistently more popular during China’s meteoric 2000–2020 rise.

There is some truth to these predictions.

China indeed has a big fertility problem. Their one-child policy was active for 36 years (up until 2016.) The Communist party believed China’s population was growing too fast, and limited an entire generation in their ability to have multiple children.

China fertility rate over the years. Sources: Statista (UN DESA, Gapminder)

The result is a very tricky situation for China. Not only its population is rapidly aging (fewer workers have to support more retirees,) but young adults are also required by law to support their (usually low-income) parents. Since they’re the only child, it means they often don’t have enough left for their own houses, which means they delay their own families even more.

None of this is good for the economy. But aging population is not just a China problem — it’s a developed country problem.

If you look at countries with high fertility rates, you’ll quickly see that they usually belong to the poorer, developing part of the world where child labor is still on the rise. Developed countries almost always have low fertility rates, even if one-child policy did make things considerably worse.

Planned birth ceramic painting. Wikimedia Commons image.

The bigger problem in China is real estate.

If manufacturing capitalist goods put China on the map, real estate made it rich.

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