Not nice places to live: Part 2, boys to men

November 15, 2012 | Apartments, Birth order, China, Demographics, Gender equity, Global news, Housing, Pension funds, Population, Speculation

By: David A. Smith


[Continued from yesterday’s Part 1.]

In yesterday’s post, using a good compilation story on the science fiction Web site IO9 (October 3, 2012),

we explored the demographic consequences of over three decades of China’s ‘one-child policy’ and its resulting massive oversupply of men, and how it is now coming to adulthood – literally.  As IO9 dryly puts it:


How single men live … in entrepreneurial barracks


This is not a good situation.


In China, this practice has now resulted in a surplus of men who have little hope of marrying.


Men compete if there is anything at all to compete over, and women are a prize over which men have always competed. 


And because it’s harder to find a wife, men are having to literally buy or bid for them. This has contributed to China’s elevated household savings rate where parents are having to squirrel away money in order to secure a bride for their son. It has also led to a boom in the mail order bride business — and prostitution.


Worth saving for?


When the men compete, the women choose, and the results are predictable: those with advantages find each other.


Hvistendahl notes that these men tend to accumulate in the lower classes where the risk of violence is accentuated.


Young men kept in too-close proximity with one another turn to sports, drugs, violence and fanaticism. 


Not much to do in a dormitory


Previously I’ve posted at length about China’s ant tribes, and the depressing overcrowded conditions that have resulted from China’s imperial-economy approach to urban planning.


Moreover, unmarried men who have low incomes tend to get restless — and in fact, areas with skewed gender balances tend to experience higher rates of crime.


Men’s dormitory, China


A city with too many rootless urban young men is as incendiary as a tinderbox.        


Charred remains, Le Blanc Mesnil, Paris, November, 2005


Unless China finds productive outlets for these young men, there will be violence on an enormous scale, and whether that violence manifests in urban riots, or civil war, or aggressive war against neighbors, all of the possible results will be grim.


That was America: Watts, 1965


As a recent analysis by Wei Xing Zhu has shown, the imbalance is expected to worsen in the coming decades; the biggest gaps currently exist between the one to four-year old group — which means they’ll be the ones having to deal with the fallout in about in 15 to 20 years.


Nor is a restless testosterone-crazed urban youth the only problem China is confronting; the nation also faces a looming catastrophe at the other end of the age spectrum.


By the midpoint of the century, more than a quarter of the Chinese population will be over 65. And it will be at this point in time (if not sooner) that young adults will face an unprecedented burden of care — what’s been dubbed the 4-2-1 problem.


What this means is, given that most Chinese citizens don’t have siblings, each child will likely have to care for their two parents — and very possibly their four grandparents (hence the 4-2-1 problem).


As the Economist noted a while back, Japan faces the same grim prognosis, and the results will be declining standards of living, collapsing home prices, and a crisis in health care.


I’m tired of holding up my parents’ retirement


Statistically speaking, for every 100 people aged 20 to 64, there will be 45 people aged over 65, compared to 15 today. This will put a tremendous strain on the younger generations.


Here in America, we’ve already seen how an aging population renders Social Security insolvent, leads to spiraling health-care costs, and is slowly bankrupting many public pension funds and hence many municipalities.


Too soon old, too late rich


All this is potentially in store for China.


There’s also the problem of rapidly declining population growth. According to a recent census, China’s population grew 5.8% since 2000, from 1.27 billion to 1.34 billion — a significant slowdown from the previous census which indicated a rate of 11.7%. Simultaneously, the proportion of Chinese aged 14 and under fell to 16.6% (compared with 22.9% in the previous census). According to Wang Feng, a demographer and director of the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy in Beijing, this points to an astounding low fertility rate below 1.5 children per couple.


Condemned to see the future in its demography


Indeed, the scenario he presents is so quantitative and disturbing that it’s worth quoting from Wang Feng’s article (Arial red):


China’s demographic bullet train is racing into the unknown. Its carriages are already full, but more passengers squeeze in every minute. Most are not young, productive workers, but older travelers who cannot pay for their ride. No one knows where the train will stop, nor whether it will arrive safely.


You can get off any time you like, but only if you die

His article has many more fascinating details, of which I’ll quote only a few:

A substantial decline in the supply of young labor, the escalating financial burden of caring for the elderly, and an aging society with Chinese characteristics – namely a severely weakened family support system, caused in large part by China’s three-decade one-child policy – have already begun to exert a powerful impact on the Chinese economy, and pose a serious risk to future economic growth, social harmony and political stability.


As Mr. Wang shows, China is growing old before it grows rich:


China already has 180m people aged over 60, and this is set to reach around 240m by 2020 and 360m by 2030.


Fun game if you can afford it


The economy’s growth must now slow down:

In 1980-2010, the effect of a favorable population age structure accounted for between 15% and 25% of per-capita GDP growth.  The size of the young population aged 20-24 will only be 67m by 2030, less than 60% of the figure in 2010.


Where will we get the low-wage workers of tomorrow?


Urbanization will accelerate, as will the need for genuine urban affordable housing:

As the supply of young workers shrinks—a process that has already begun—increased labor mobility will be essential. This will require reforming
China’s hukou system, which links social security and public welfare entitlements to citizens’ place of registration. China’s “floating population” of rural migrants now stands in excess of 220m, but the hukou system remains a significant barrier to migration. If rural migrants were given access to urban education, health care and other welfare services, more rural residents would move to the cities on a per­manent basis.


Currently over 40% of all middle-aged Chinese couples have only one child, a figure that rises to two-thirds in cities. A sound social safety net needs to be put in place before the economy feels the full force of deteriorating demographics. That means extending and improving the fledgling national pension scheme, and creating a universal medical insurance program that is por­table across regions.


That’s much easier said than done:


What do we do without grandchildren to care for us?

Funding remains a significant issue, but the system also suffers from the
inefficiencies of bureaucratic controland price distortions [As well as corruption – Ed.], which set the cost of labor artificially low. As a consequence, hospitals routinely attempt to profit by over-prescribing medicine. Since elderly people account for the larg­est share of health care costs, getting these reforms right has important economic implications.


In fact, changing course, though urgent, may by now be demographically too late:

Chinese demographers have been asking the government to reconsider the one-child policy. If statements made by President Hu Jintao back in April 2011 are of any indication, the rule may be under review. Other commentators, however, insist that the Chinese government is steadfast in their support of the policy and that it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Meanwhile, at the family level, the shortage of children is already creating a generation in China whose sense of entitlement may come to rival that of us narcissistic Baby Boomers:


Another implication of the one-child policy is what’s referred to as the “little emperor” syndrome.


Bow down before me, mom and dad!


Some social psychologists contend that many Chinese children, because they have no siblings, are not properly socialized into society. And in fact, these so-called Chinese singletons have been accused of being over-indulged, lacking in self-discipline and having no adaptive capabilities. 


Birth order has a tremendous impact on the development of unique familial personality types. In essence, China has created an entire generation of exclusively first born children — this could be dramatically reducing the diversity of personality types in that country.


Who’s likely to be the bossy child here?


Eighty years ago, Aldous Huxley wrote about a society comprised exclusively of Alphas:

That has such people in it!


It began in A.F. 473. The Controllers had the island of Cyprus cleared of all its existing inhabitants and re-colonized with a specially prepared batch of twenty-two thousand Alphas. All agricultural and industrial equipment was handed over to them and they were left to manage their own affairs. The result exactly fulfilled all the theoretical predictions. The land wasn’t properly worked; there were strikes in all the factories; the laws were set at naught, orders disobeyed; all the people detailed for a spell of low-grade work were perpetually intriguing for high-grade jobs, and all the people with high-grade jobs were counter-intriguing at all costs to stay where they were.


“When the individual feels, the community reels”


Within six years they were having a first-class civil war. When nineteen out of the twenty-two thousand had been killed, the survivors unanimously petitioned the World Controllers to resume the government of the island. Which they did. And that was the end of the only society of Alphas that the world has ever seen.


Fitting it is that Huxley wrote his nightmare of a eugenically-managed peaceful future almost exactly between the two greatest wars our planet has ever seen.  Historically, societies have found a fairly primitive but effective means of eliminating a surplus of males.  It’s called war.


Chinese Civil War soldiers, 1940s