|http://www.sina.com.cn 2005/03/04 20:20 《Speak 2 Me》|
Seventy years ago, the average life span in China was 24 years. Today, it has nearly tripled: Chinese men live for an average of 69 years, as opposed to 73 for women. And it’s not just China which has seen an amazing jump in life spans: thanks to better nutrition and medicine, people all around the world are living longer, and staying healthier into old age.
Surely that’s good news, isn’t it? But these kinds of numbers keep some economists and politicians awake at night. What are they worried about? “It’s great that people are living longer,” says economist Michael Teller. “The problem is that they don’t want to work longer.”
Most people used to work nearly up until the day they died. When governments started instituting public pensions and mandatory retirement ages, the expectation was that retirements wouldn’t last very long. But these days, someone who retires at 55 can look forward to 20 or 30 years of pension checks.
At the same time, people are having fewer children, meaning there are fewer people working and paying taxes to support these pensions. In Japan, the birth rate is so low that the population is expected to shrink 21% between now and 2050. At the same time, the number of people over 60 will grow to 1/3 of the population.
Governments encourage their citizens to have more babies, but with little effect. “It simply costs too much to have kids these days,” notes Japanese doctor Haruna Kashiwase. “Most people I know stop at one, or two at the most. Three is out of the question.” Another way to balance the population is to import young workers. Immigrant families tend to have more children, which means more taxpayers in the short term. But, by the second generation, immigrant families tend to have fewer children too, leaving the country back at square one.
“There’s no quick fix for this problem,” Teller says. “Any solution is going to be painful. But ignoring the problem will only make it more painful later on.”