China’s plan to put back the retirement age will be a gradual process rather than a “one-size-fits-all” approach, a leading government researcher has told state media. The proposal prompted by the county’s ageing population sparked uproar on social media after it was announced on Friday with critics saying it was unfair to make them work longer than expected because the shrinking labour force was the result of government policies.

Jin Weigang, the head of the social security research institute of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, told state news agency Xinhua that the retirement age would rise by a few months every year. “For example, in the first year of the implementation of this policy, women who originally retire at the age of 50 will retire at the age of 50 plus one or more months. The retirement age will vary for different age groups. That is to say, there will be a number of years of transition,” Jin said. “What is certain is that in the early stages of the reform, people who are about to retire will only be delayed by one month or a few months, and will not retire a few years later.” He added that young people may have to work a few years longer but will have “a long adaptation and transition period”.

The proposals to take “small steps” towards raise the retirement age were set out in the country’s new five-year plan and a development strategy that will run until 2035. You Jun, the vice-minister for human resources and social security, said that his department is working with the relevant departments to draw up a plan for delaying retirement, and it will “widely solicit opinions so as to make it as acceptable as possible to all”. China’s mandatory retirement age has remained unchanged at 60 for men and 55 for women – or 50 for blue-collar women – for the past 40 years.

Earlier this month Xinhua reported that the authorities were considering two proposals: one to raise the retirement age for both men and women to 65, while another plan would see the retirement age for women raised to 60 first, before the age for both sexes rose to 65. Strict rules about the number of children families are allowed have left China with a shrinking workforce and ageing population. The number of over-60s in China is now projected to rise from 200 million in 2020 to 300 million in 2030 and 460 million in 2050, while the fertility rate has continued to remain low even though the one-child policy was finally scrapped in 2016.

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