James Areddy had an extensive article on this in a recent Wall Street Journal. It seems that the personal savings rate of People’s Republic of China’s citizens peaked around 2010 and has been trailing off ever since. Areddy posited a number of reasons for this, and why it’s likely to continue. Chief among them is the usual suspect of an increasingly less poor, if not increasingly prosperous, population wishing to live better rather than save more. Another major reason seems to be the PRC’s one-child policy, lately relaxed legally, but not socially. With fewer kids in the family, there’s less reason for parents to save against those kids’ future.
I see another reason, though, for the continuation of the fall-off in savings rate, and that continuation running to disastrously low levels, from a national economic perspective. This is the aging of the PRC’s population.
That aging is driven by a couple of things. One is that folks get old before they die (duh), and today’s PRC population being healthier than yesterday’s, these folks are living longer. The bookend to this is the shrinking—across generations—of the population of working age citizens. This stems from that one-child policy, emplaced explicitly to shrink a population that had severe trouble feeding and housing itself and from the continued social lack of desire for more than one child in a family, and from the desire to live better materially today, now that folks are better off (or at least not so bad off).
With fewer folks working relatively to aging and retiring, this means there’ll be less public money to pay for old folks’ retirement (and retired) needs, so the old folks will need to spend their savings even faster than might be the case otherwise.
Another feedback loop likely is inflation. This will accelerate the fall-off in personal savings. This inflation will be driven by that same shrinking labor force, this time reducing production output—the availability of goods and services—even as spending increases across all age demographics: a classic case of (relatively) too many yuan chasing (relatively) too few goods.