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Precarious Employment, Pension Participation, and Retirement Deferment in China

Xueyang Ma, Zengwen Wang, Jie Zhang and Jian Wu
p. 57-68

Abstract

Recent changes in the relationship between the postponement of the statutory retirement age, pension participation, and the precariousness of employment in China may conceal the lasting negative effects on workers’ current and ongoing welfare. Grounded on China’s normalised precarious employment with individualisation, insecurity, and instability, and identifying the current Urban Employee Basic Pension (UEBP) as based on traditional industrialism, the empirical evidence from 68 workers in precarious employment shows how limited UEBP participation even extends working life. Under the institutionalised inequality of UEBP, and without long-term coworkers who can promote understanding of the system, the uncertainties of future livelihood and “voluntary” participation in the UEBP (re)shape the rationality of precarious workers towards minimum participation. Hence, raising the statutory retirement ages is unlikely to improve their UEBP participation, but rather lengthen the period of precarious employment.

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Editor’s notes

Manuscript received on 3 October 2023. Accepted on 6 May 2024.

Excerpt

Full text document will be published online on June 2025.

Outline

Introduction
Precarious employment and basic pension structures for workers in China
Precarious employment in China: Instability, individualisation, and insecurity
Workers’ basic pension structures and inequality for precarious workers
Data collection and analysis
Precarious workers’ low UEBP participation
UEBP or self-saving? Experience of employment individualisation and knowledge of policy
Insecure employment and access for individual UEBP enrollers
Employment instability and strategies to minimise UEBP self-contributions
The likely impact of RSRA on precarious workers
Discussion and conclusion

First lines

Introduction

In China, the statutory retirement ages of 60 for male workers and 50 for female workers have been in place since the Labour Insurance Regulations was introduced in 1951. At that time, the average life expectancy was below 45 years old (Jing et al. 2021) but has now reached 78 years old. With an ageing society and slow population growth, some policymakers and scholars advocated raising the statutory retirement ages (RSRA) to cover the pension deficit and increase the workforce. The proposed new statutory retirement ages vary – for example, 55 for all women first, and then 60 or 65 for both genders. These proposals have received strong opposition from workers, especially those with precarious employment.

China’s precarious employment has expanded with the socioeconomic transformation after the 1970s, which has changed plentiful full-time employment into non-standard, part-time, casual or informal ones. Many commentors have noted that China’s important growth, poverty alle...

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References

Bibliographical reference

Xueyang Ma, Zengwen Wang, Jie Zhang and Jian Wu, Precarious Employment, Pension Participation, and Retirement Deferment in ChinaChina Perspectives, 137 | 2024, 57-68.

Electronic reference

Xueyang Ma, Zengwen Wang, Jie Zhang and Jian Wu, Precarious Employment, Pension Participation, and Retirement Deferment in ChinaChina Perspectives [Online], 137 | 2024, Online since 01 June 2025, connection on 20 July 2024. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/chinaperspectives/16762; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/11y7k

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About the authors

Xueyang Ma

Xueyang Ma is a postdoctoral researcher at the School of Political Science and Public Administration, Wuhan University, 299 Bayi Road, Wuhan, 430072, China (xueyangma@yeah.net).

Zengwen Wang

Zengwen Wang (corresponding author) is Professor at the School of Political Science and Public Administration and Deputy Director of the Research Centre of Social Security, Wuhan University, 299 Bayi Road, Wuhan, 430072, China (wzwlm922@163.com).

Jie Zhang

Jie Zhang is an assistant lecturer at the School of Humanities and Management, Southwest Medical University, 1 Xianglin Road, Luzhou, 646000, China (jiezhang518@126.com).

Jian Wu

Jian Wu is Lecturer at the School of Health Policy and Management, Nanjing Medical University, 101 Longmian Avenue, Nanjing, 211166, China (wujian0304@njmu.edu.cn).

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Copyright

The text and other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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