Female workers in China are defying the world’s lowest retirement age as Beijing struggles to balance the needs of an aging workforce and youth unemployment.
Court records reveal that Chinese women have sued their employers more than 1,000 times since 2019 to force them to leave work at age 50, while their female colleagues in management positions can stay until age 55. In the decade before 2019, there were fewer than 800 cases of like that.
Labor rules in China require women in certain occupations to retire earlier than others, but the law is ambiguous in defining which groups fall under the policy. In the United States, full retirement for men and women begins at age 66.
Rising retirement disputes highlight China’s demographic predicament: the country Population is getting old And the birth rate is declining, creating an economic time bomb. At the same time, the government is striving to achieve ambitious economic growth targets with government pension funds seriously declining.
“It is true that our retirement rules have led to a waste of human capital and put pressure on the pension system,” said a government adviser in Beijing who requested anonymity. “But the authorities also don’t want the old to compete with the young for jobs that are still in short supply.”
China established its own pension system in the early 1950s, when Beijing set the mandatory age to leave the workforce at 50 for most women, 55 for female workers in managerial roles or those with special skills and 60 for men regardless of their position.
Analysts said the arrangement at the time was a good match for a country where citizens rarely live past the age of 50 and women have given birth to an average of six children.
“We have made women, especially ordinary women, retire early so they can spend more time taking care of the family,” said Yuan Shen, a demographic expert and government advisor in Tianjin.
Since then, the life expectancy of Chinese women has risen to nearly 80 years, and births have declined, despite the relaxation of family planning policies. China population It grew at the slowest rate In decades in the ten years to 2020.
These factors, along with improved education and higher income, have prompted more women to do so Focus on their career and build retirement savings.
China’s underfunded pension system will also be relaxed due to workers delaying retirement, as Beijing struggles to Support the country’s aging population السكان.
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, an official think-tank, said in a report that it expects to run out of funds for the state-supported pension fund by 2035. “There should be a new policy on late retirement at the earliest,” said Fang Lianquan, one of the study’s authors.
Despite China’s ambiguous labor laws and the resistance of many female professionals willing to work until age 55, the early retirement policy has remained unchanged.
In eastern Jiangsu province, Wang Yun, 51, lost a lawsuit this year against her employer, a retailer where she worked as a marketing manager, for retiring at age 50. The case collapsed after the defendant filed his newly amended corporation’s charter, which defined management positions for directors and above.
“I have spent nearly a decade managing people and have the strength and desire to keep my job,” Wang said. “It is unfortunate that the court did not listen to me.”
Another big obstacle to changing China’s retirement policy is the country’s youth. Even as the country’s working-age population has fallen sharply, many younger workers are falling back Struggling to find jobs.
The unemployment rate for Chinese adults under the age of 24 is more than 13 percent, compared to the national average of about 5 percent. This job shortage will be exacerbated if older people put off retirement.
“The Chinese economy does not allow both the young and the old to be fully employed,” said an adviser to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, which sets the retirement policy. “We can only prioritize one group of people.”
Another barrier to raising the retirement age is the large numbers of adult women, led by low-income workers, who want to enjoy the benefits of retirement sooner after decades of toil on factory floors or office cubicles.
In the northeastern city of Fushun, Wang Feng, a 50-year-old office manager, retired this month even though Chinese law allowed her to work for another five years.
“I’ve been busy for over three decades and haven’t felt well for the past few years,” said Wang. “I don’t want to work anymore.”
Yu Jun, deputy minister of human resources and social security, said in February that China would extend the retirement age “in a gradual manner,” but did not provide a timetable.
Government advisers said reforms could begin next year, when the official retirement age for both men and women will rise by a few months.
But that will do little to ease the fears of many female professionals. “Maybe my daughter’s generation has more freedom to choose when to retire,” said Liu Hui, 49, a marketing assistant in Shanghai. “Maybe I won’t have that luck.”