What's happening in China as it's population of over 80s rapidly increases could have the biggest impact on the rest of the world.
What's happening in China as it's population of over 80s rapidly increases could have the biggest impact on the rest of the world. fotoVoyager

How will China's ageing population impact on us?

CHINA represents one-fifth of the world's population and has about one-quarter of the world's people aged 60 and over researchers at the UNSW's ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR) report.

What's happening in China could have the biggest impact on the rest of the world says Dr John Piggott, a scientia professor of economics at UNSW Business School.

"Developed nations have also aged, but in China it's happening much faster than it occurred in the west," he says. "That means the world's second largest economy is getting old before it gets rich and that will have major ramifications for patterns of production and consumption, investment and interest rates in China and the rest of the world.

"And, if you look at the projections for people aged 80 and over, China's share is growing quite significantly.

"Life expectancy is increasing and the population is so big to start with that it means China will be more substantially represented in the 80 and over demographic in the next generation."

CEPAR calculations, based on UN data, show that by 2050 there are expected to be 83 countries with more than 20 per cent of their population aged 65 and over, representing an unprecedented burden of care for younger people and governments. 

Those aged 80 and over which are the group most likely to require care, is projected to reach 430 million. That's up from about 14 million in 1950 and 125 million now. 

"I think it is likely that, because you will have a higher proportion of the population supported by retirement incomes rather than by labour, the consumption mix in China will change and be more focused on service delivery," Dr Piggott explains. "And that may have impacts for Australian exports for example. 

"At the moment, a simplistic view of what goes on between Australia and China is that when the Chinese economy looks fragile, (the government starts) another infrastructure project and that requires resources from Australia and elsewhere." 

But that could change, he says, if there is more demand in China for retirement and aged care services, for example, rather than natural resource-intensive projects. 

Internally China is facing major social consequences stemming from the confluence of rapid growth, often fuelled by people moving from rural areas to cities, with a rapidly ageing population. 

And while migratory seniors, known as snowbirds, annually flock in their hundreds and thousands away from the northern winters to enjoy a Florida lifestyle in Sanya, there are plenty of other elderly people who face hardship and poverty.

Added to this is fewer children leading to a breakdown of the traditional family meaning many ageing parents won't be looked after by their children 

The question remains then, who will look after the elderly?

The Chinese government has stepped in to provide some home care services, says Piggott, and it's considering raising the retirement age and cutting pension contributions, among other policies.