China will be the first emerging country to see its demographic spending trends slow, as a result of its infamous one-child policy, which dates back to the 1970s.
Back then, limiting the number of children each couple could have was a natural response to the problem of a poor, yet rapidly growing population.
But its implications today, and for the coming decades, are ominous.
Already China’s workforce growth has slowed in recent years. It will plateau for the next decade and then fall in the decades after that, just like what happened in Japan and what’s in store for other East Asian countries.
But there is more to the story than that…
You see, the Chinese, like most East Asian people, prefer to have male children. So today, there is a stark gender imbalance in China. The country’s population consists of 51.9% men and only 48.1% women, as you’ll see in the chart below.
That’s a 3.8% gap, which totals 50 million people!
This is a problem because, when a society has too many men, there’s an increased tendency towards more violent crimes and more crimes against property (as a look at history shows). And countries with a culture of male dominance also have lower birth rates.
Economist Lena Edland estimates that for every 1% gap between men and women in a population, such crimes increase by 6%. That makes me glad I don’t live in China.
During times of civil unrest, such inclinations could be devastating. And China’s heading straight down that road. With its dual strategies of overbuilding everything and moving rural farmers off their land and into urban high rises, where they’re utterly unskilled to survive, civil unrest looms on the horizon.
But it goes even further than that.
In China they have a cultural tradition that requires women to marry men of higher stature. That is, the man must be taller, older and have a higher education than his bride to be. He must also earn more money than her. That means B-grade women marry A-grade men, and so on down the line.
This is now a problem because so many Chinese women have elevated their status through education and career progression. Now the country is left to contend with a hoard of leftover A-grade, professional women. These ladies can’t find a husband, so now they’re not having kids.
It also leaves gangs of D-grade men who can’t find wives… and they’re most likely to be unemployed and of the criminal persuasion.
The result is that China’s birth rate is heading south. Already, at 1.55 (replacement is 2.1), it has the lowest birth rates per woman of any major emerging country. In comparison, India’s birth rate is 2.65.
Certainly, China’s birth rate is not the worst out there. Spain’s birth rate is 1.48 per woman. In Greece it’s 1.40. In Japan it’s 1.39, in Poland it’s 1.32, in the Ukraine it’s 1.29, in South Korea it’s 1.24 and in Singapore it’s 0.79.
A quickly declining, male-dominated population doesn’t bode well for China’s economy, nor any of those East Asian, European and Scandinavian countries.
There is really only one solution: Encourage immigration. Unfortunately, this is not something the Chinese government is actively considering. Besides, who would want to immigrate to China? It has the worst pollution in the world and an almost impossible language to learn.
All of the other countries with birth rates well below replacement level are equally reticent to welcome foreign workers into their workforce.
The reality is kids are the future.
Without them innovation stalls, then spending declines, then political change slows and investments stagnate, or wane.
But the world’s a different place today than it was back in 1800. Women are a force to be reckoned with in the workforce.
Cultures that don’t adapt to that will slowly die. Yes. Even China.
It’s their choice, but the outcome, if they remain stuck in their past, is inevitable.
P.S. If you haven’t had a chance to check out our first ever training series, I urge you to do so before midnight tonight. After that it goes offline.
Ahead of the Curve with Adam O’Dell
Demographic factors have the tendency to create meaningful, long-term investment opportunities. The exact opposite of day-trading strategies, global macro strategies seek to profit from lasting differences between the performance of various countries or regions around the world.