China has confirmed that it will gradually start pushing back its long-mandated retirement ages in the coming years, in line with Beijing's plans to better accommodate the needs of the elderly and adjust to new realities stemming from the nation's rapidly ageing population.
The possible raising of its legal retirement ages has become an increasingly debated topic in recent years. And further impetus was given to the idea as recent data sounded alarms over how rapidly China's workforce is shrinking.
Demographic and labour experts have long argued that the current mandatory retirement ages in China - 60 for men, 55 for female office workers and 50 for female blue-collar workers - must be reconsidered, especially since they were first stipulated about 70 years ago.
China's life expectancy at birth was 35 years before 1949, according to official figures. By 2019, it had risen to 77.3 years. Some population experts say that renders the unchanged retirement ages impractical.
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The State Council, China's cabinet, said on Monday that it was addressing the issue. Without giving specific details on the changes, it said retirement ages would be "gradually" delayed by the end of 2025 - during the country's current 14th five-year plan.
The council also said that the nation's social security system will be further safeguarded, and that the basic pension and basic medical insurance system would be improved, with widened coverage.
Furthermore, it said China will "strengthen the capabilities of home and community elderly care services", "perfect the support system for the health of the elderly" and "boost the development of the silver economy", among other measures.
As its population gets older, China is also dealing with a steady decline in annual births, further triggering concerns that the nation is facing a demographic turning point.
China's working-age population, those aged 16-59, shrank by 40 million from 2010 to 2021, and it is expected to further decline by 7 million annually through 2025, according to official data.
Additionally, the population aged 60 and over was 267.36 million last year, accounting for 18.9 per cent of the total. More than 200.56 million were aged 65 and over, accounting for 14.2 per cent of the total.
Several local authorities across the country started soliciting public opinions on the retirement-age issue last year, and some variations of delayed retirement are already taking place.
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For instance, in eastern Jiangsu province, starting on March 1, any worker can voluntarily apply for delayed retirement of at least one year. It is not mandatory, and the application must be approved by the employee before it is registered with the local branch of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security.
And in early 2020, authorities in eastern Shandong province said that experts in specialised technologies with high ranks could apply for one to three years of delayed retirement, with their eventual retirement age not exceeding 65 years.
Meanwhile, in some highly specialised fields, such as engineering, experts have long been hired after retirement.
China is facing a shortage of 30 million technical specialists by 2025, according to official data.
Delaying the retirement age could also help fill the immense gap in highly skilled technical talents, according to Li Changan, a specialist in labour economics at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.
"In fact, there is a great number of experienced, knowledgeable and highly skilled talents among the huge population of our elderly human resources," Li wrote in an article published last year. "They can effectively make up for the structural shortages on the labour market."
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