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The Median Age in China Surpassed That of the United States

Ambassador Mark Green

Getting older: In 2020, the median age in China (38.4 years) surpassed that of the United States for the first time in modern history.

In 1978, China’s median age was a young 21.5 years. We are starting to see the impact of the country’s aggressive population control measures, which they imposed to soften the economic hardships for a population that had nearly doubled since the end of China’s civil war in 1949. Most notoriously, the government instituted a one-child policy, which was in place until 2016.

The results of China’s 2020 census seem to have dramatically changed Beijing’s reproductive strategies: The one-child policy that became a two-child policy in 2016 was again amended to a three-child policy, though China’s total fertility rate stands at 1.3, below the replacement rate of roughly 2.1 children per household. China also took government action that essentially eliminated its private tutoring industry in an effort to reduce the financial pressure on parents. Several provinces have added time to maternity leave and offered financial incentives to new parents, but many employers still discriminate based on a woman’s maternal status.

According to many observers, these latest moves fall short of addressing the underlying reasons for China’s fertility crisis. High costs of living, demands to care for a retired population with unstable pensions, an increasingly competitive workforce, and gender inequality in the workforce, deter many women from having children. China is currently 107 out of 156 on World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap index.

About the Author

Ambassador Mark Green

Ambassador Mark A. Green

President & CEO, Wilson Center
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