Chronicle of a Decline Foretold: Has China Reached the Lewis Turning Point?
22 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2013
Date Written: January 2013
China is on the eve of a demographic shift that will have profound consequences on its economic and social landscape. Within a few years the working age population will reach a historical peak, and then begin a precipitous decline. This fact, along with anecdotes of rapidly rising migrant wages and episodic labor shortages, has raised questions about whether China is poised to cross the Lewis Turning Point, a point at which it would move from a vast supply of low-cost workers to a labor shortage economy. Crossing this threshold will have far-reaching implications for both China and the rest of the world. This paper empirically assesses when the transition to a labor shortage economy is likely to occur. Our central result is that on current trends, the Lewis Turning Point will emerge between 2020 and 2025. Alternative scenarios-with higher fertility, greater labor participation rates, financial reform or higher productivity-may peripherally delay or accelerate the onset of the turning point, but demographics will be the dominant force driving the depletion of surplus labor.
Keywords: Demographics, Excess labor supply, Lewis Turning Point, Population aging
JEL Classification: C30, C18, J11, J20, J61, O17
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