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Chinese women desperate to continue working but forced to retire

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China’s female workers are challenging the world’s lowest retirement age as Beijing tackles the balance of the needs of an aging workforce and youth unemployment.

Judicial records show that Chinese women have been suing their employers more than 1,000 times since 2019 for letting them work at age 50, while their colleagues in management positions can stay until the age of 55. In the decade before 2019, there were less than 800 such cases.

China’s labor rules require women in certain professions to retire earlier than others, but the law is vague in specifying which groups fall into politics. In the United States, full retirement for men and women begins at age 66.

The growth of retirement struggles highlights China’s demographic problem: the country the aging population and its birth rate is falling, creating an economic bomb. At the same time, the government is trying to meet ambitious economic growth targets where state pension funds are dangerously low.

“It is true that our retirement rules have led to a loss of human capital and pressure on the pension system,” said a Beijing government adviser who asked not to be identified. “But the authorities also don’t want the old to compete with the young for jobs that are still lacking.”

China established its pension system in the early 1950s, when Beijing set the mandatory age for leaving the workforce at 50 for most women, 55 for women working in leadership functions or with special skills and 60 for men regardless of their position.

The agreement, analysts said, was then a good match for a country where citizens rarely lived past the age of 50 and women had on average six children.

“We have made sure that women, especially ordinary ones, retire earlier so that they can spend more time caring for the family,” said Yuan Xin, demographer and adviser to the Tianjin government.

Since then, life expectancy for Chinese women has risen to nearly 80 years, and births have dropped, despite the relaxation of family planning policies. The population of China it grew at its slowest rate in decades in the 10 years to 2020.

Those factors, combined with improved education and rising incomes, have prompted more women to focus on their careers and builds pension savings.

China’s underfunded pension system will also be raised by workers who delay retirement, while Beijing struggles to supports the aging of the nation’s population.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, an official think-tank, said in a report that it expected the state-backed pension fund to run out of money by 2035. “There needs to be a new policy for late retirement as soon as possible, ”said Fang Lianquan, one of the study’s authors.

Despite the ambiguous laws of Chinese labor and the resistance of many female professionals who want to work until age 55, the policy of early retirement has remained unchanged.

China’s retirement system was established in the 1950s, when few lived past the age of 50 and women had an average of six children © AP

In eastern Jiangsu province, Wang Yun, 51, lost a lawsuit this year against his employer, a retailer where he served as marketing manager, for retiring at age 50. The case fell through after the defendant filed his new corporate review charter, which limited administrative positions to directors and above.

“I have spent almost a decade managing people and I have the strength and willingness to keep my job,” Wang said. “Too bad the court didn’t listen to me.”

Another major obstacle to changing China’s withdrawal policy is the country’s youth. Even as the nation’s working-age population declines precipitously, many younger workers are struggling to find jobs.

The unemployment rate for Chinese adults under the age of 24 is more than 13 percent, compared to a national average of about 5 percent. This lack of employment would be aggravated even if older workers retire.

“The Chinese economy does not allow young and old to be fully employed,” said an adviser to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, which sets the retirement policy. “We can’t give priority to a group of people.”

Another barrier to raising the retirement age is the large number of adult women, led by low-income workers, who want to enjoy retirement benefits earlier after decades of working on factory floors or in office cabinets. the office.

In the northwestern city of Fushun, Wang Feng, a 50-year-old office director, retired this month even though Chinese law allowed him to work another five years.

“I’ve been busy for more than three decades and I haven’t felt well in the last few years,” Wang said. “I don’t want to work anymore.”

You Jun, vice minister of human resources and social security, said in February that China would extend the retirement age in a “gradual manner,” but did not offer a timetable.

Government advisers have said reforms could begin next year when the official retirement age for men and women would increase by a few months.

That will do little to alleviate the concerns of many female professionals, however. “Maybe my daughter’s generation will have more freedom to choose when she retires,” said Liu Hui, a 49-year-old marketing associate in Shanghai. “I probably won’t get lucky.”


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