updated 12/18/2007 10:48:54 AM ET 2007-12-18T15:48:54

China's rapidly aging population could wipe out the country's low-cost labor advantage within the next few decades and stifle economic growth, state media said Tuesday.

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The China Daily, quoting a report by the China National Committee on Aging, said that sometime between 2030 and 2050, there will be only two workers for every retiree — down from the current ratio of six workers to one retiree.

While China's population is growing, the number of elderly is increasing at a quicker pace.

According to the report, China had 149 million people over the age of 60 last year. That is expected to grow to 248 million in 2020 and 437 million in 2050. China now has a population of 1.3 billion.

"With fewer people of working age and more pressure on supporting the elderly, the economy will suffer if productivity sees no major progress," the aging committee's deputy director, Yan Qingchun, was quoted as saying.

Economic reforms over the past three decades have turned China into the world's factory floor on the back of cheap labor costs. But pressure from the reforms has also caused the communist welfare system to disintegrate, with layoffs from state-owned enterprises and a lack of social safety nets.

Yan was quoted as saying that China "might encounter the heaviest burden, especially after 2030," when there could be an end to economic growth fueled by the growing number of people of working age.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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