China’s long-delayed plans to hike retirement age go viral

Talk of China’s long-delayed plans to hike the retirement age went viral on Feb 3, with a flood of negative comments underscoring how sensitive and unpopular the proposal is.

In a research report from Citic Securities that sparked the online controversy, the brokerage forecasts that the delay of the retirement age will be announced this year and will begin in 2025, starting with a unified retirement age of 55 for women.

Men’s retirement age will then be delayed by four months every year, and that of women by two months, with everyone retiring at 65 by 2055. The report was first released in November but picked up by some popular commentators in the past few days.

China’s retirement age has remained unchanged for more than four decades at 60 for men and 55 for female white-collar workers, even as life-expectancy has risen. Female blue-collar workers retire even earlier at 50. Previous efforts to raise the retirement age since 2012 have failed, with massive public backlash helping to derail the push.

The official working-age population is defined as people aged 15-59 and has been falling since 2012 as the nation ages, meaning the country needs to encourage more older people to keep working to ensure a stable labour force and pay for pensions for the growing number of elderly. That has taken on extra urgency with the national population officially falling last year for the first time since the 1960s and a record 280 million people who were 60 years or older.

The issue was one of the top 10 trending topics on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform.

“Delayed retirement reform has been included in the report of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China,” the analysts wrote late last year. “Delayed retirement is on the way.”

One Weibo response to the report which had been reposted over 4,000 times said “don’t think delaying retirement age is just to make you work a few more years. Because you may not be able to find any work even before 65, but you’ll only able to get your pension then.”

“We probably won’t be able to find a job at 60,” said another popular post. “This is why China’s savings rate is leading the world. Who still dares to spend?”

The question of how to pay for an aging society is one facing developed and developing nations all over the world. The French government is facing a growing backlash against plans to increase the minimum retirement age by two years to 64, with more than one million workers striking and marching this week to protest the proposal.

However, with its population expected to continue shrinking, China will need to act to ensure that there is not a rapid fall in the number of people working. Neighbouring Japan has shown one way to achieve that, with people continuing to work even as they age one of the reasons the nation has been able to maintain the size of its workforce even as the population has shrunk in recent years. – Bloomberg