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Yong Cai, Ph.D. - UNC-Chapel Hill. Chapel Hill, NC, US

Yong Cai, Ph.D. Yong Cai, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, College of Arts and Sciences | UNC-Chapel Hill


Professor Cai is a leading expert in Chinese Society and Social Demography





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Yong Cai of the University of North Carolina on China's aging problems



Yong Cai is associate professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Faculty Fellow at the Carolina Population Center. His research focuses on social demography, the sociology of health, Chinese society, comparative historical sociology, and research methodology.

Cai is the author of and contributor to numerous books, and has published over forty academic articles, essays, and book reviews. Cai has received various grants and fellowships over the years, including awards from the National Science Foundation of China (various years), the Chinese Ministry of Education (2012), and the Carolina Asia Center (2013). In addition, in 2011 Cai was a Visiting Scholar in the School of Social Development and Public Policy at Fudan University in Shanghai, China.

Cai is the book review editor of "Social Forces." Previously, Cai served as an elected council member of the Section on Asia and Asian America of the American Sociological Association (2009-2011).

Before coming to UNC-Chapel Hill in 2009, Cai was Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, and Assistant Investigator at Institute for Public and International Affairs at the University of Utah. Cai received his Ph.D. in sociology and M.S. in statistics from the University of Washington. Cai also received a M.L in Sociology from the Peking University.

Areas of Expertise (5)

Social Demography

Sociology of Health

Chinese Society

Comparative Historical Sociology

Research Methodology

Education (4)

University of Washington: Ph.D., Sociology 2005

University of Washington: M.S., Statistics 2003

Peking University: M.L., Sociology 1996

Peking University: B.A., Sociology 1992

Media Appearances (5)

Asia Faces Fertility Crisis

U.S. News & World Report  online


"The truth is that, before the relaxation of the one-child policy, there were substantial proportions of people [who] could and already had a second child, especially in the rural areas," said Yong Cai, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill...

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China's Singles Day Is About Sexism and Shame

Racked  online


Addressing an army of singles in itself is fairly recent. Under Mao Zedong, couples were simply paired off by family or work units. As late as the 1980s, singles amounted to less than one percent of China's adult population, according to University of North Carolina sociologist Yong Cai. (By contrast they account for 50.2 percent in the U.S. today.)...

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Researchers react to China’s two-child policy move

AAAS Science  online


The announcement is “long overdue,” wrote Yong Cai, a demographer at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in an email. “This is probably the easiest reform program that the Chinese Communist Party could push out—with virtually no political risk, but with enormous social benefits.”...

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After Decades of Hard Work China’s Seniors Are Ready for Tourism

Skift  online


With U.N. data showing the number of Chinese over age 65 projected to almost double to 210 million people by 2030, the country’s retirement system will struggle to keep up, especially as China’s one-child policy limits the number of working-age people who can pay for the pensions and meager benefits of their elders, said Yong Cai, an assistant sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill...

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Senior travel booms in growing China, with Yangtze River among the most popular spots

StarTribune  online


With U.N. data showing the number of Chinese over age 65 projected to almost double to 210 million people by 2030, the country's retirement system will struggle to keep up, especially as China's one-child policy limits the number of working-age people who can pay for the pensions and meager benefits of their elders, said Yong Cai, an assistant sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "It's very clear that the next 10 to 15 years down the road will not be so good for the pension system," Yong said. "Xi Jinping has been saying China has to deal with the new economic reality and part of this is a new demographic reality."...

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Event Appearances (5)

Fertility Rationality among Chinese across the World

Conference on Low Fertility in China  Fudan University, China


China’s Pension Reform: Will it Work?

First China-Sweden Workshop on Population Aging  Lund University, Sweden


The GLF Famine in Skinnerian Regional Space

Historical Demography Workshop  Shanghai, China


Changes in China’s Ethnic Population Distribution

Carolina Asia Center  University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


China's New Demographic Reality

Center for Chinese Studies, University of California, Los Angeles  Los Angeles, CA.


Articles (4)

Challenging Myths About China’s One-Child Policy.

China Journal


Chinas controversial one-child policy continues to generate controversy and misinformation. This essay challenges several common myths: that Mao Zedong consistently opposed efforts to limit China's population growth; that consequently China's population continued to grow rapidly until after his death; that the launching of the one-child policy in 1980 led to a dramatic decline in China's fertility rate; and that the imposition of the policy prevented 400 million births. Evidence is presented contradicting each of these claims. Mao Zedong at times forcefully advocated strict limits on births and presided over a major switch to coercive birth planning after 1970; as much as three-quarters of the decline in fertility since 1970 occurred before the launching of the one-child policy; fertility levels fluctuated in China after the policy was launched; and most of the further decline in fertility since 1980 can be attributed to economic development, not coercive enforcement of birth limits.

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Pension Reform in China: Challenges and Opportunities

Journal of Economic Surveys


China's current segmented pension system features regional imbalance, fiscal inefficiency, social inequality and economic unsustainability. It is a result of three-decade evolution guided by vague long-term objectives, constrained by economic and political circumstances and swayed by interest-group infighting. Expecting rapid population ageing and economic transformation, China aims to establish a national pension system that provides ‘wide coverage, basic security, multi-level options and sustainability’ by 2020. The paper reviews the history of China's pension system, examines proposed reform options and discusses the challenges and opportunities faced by the reform.

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China's New Demographic Reality: Learning from the 2010 Census

Population and Development Review


China conducted its sixth modern census in 2010, recording a total of 1.34 billion people. This article presents an overview of the early census results. The data are of reasonable quality but contain some apparent defects where adjustments may be required. The census confirms that China has entered the era of demographic modernity and depicts the vast transformation of the country's rural-urban distribution. Life expectancy has risen by 3–4 years in the decade since the last census, while fertility remains well below replacement—probably as low as 1.5 births per woman—and the sex ratio at birth is still significantly elevated. Low fertility and falling old-age mortality are leading to continued and rapid population aging. Several coastal provinces grew by as much as 40 percent in the last decade, while a number of inland provinces have recorded population decline. China has reached an overall urban proportion of 50 percent.

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China's Age of Abundance: When Might It Run Out?

The Journal of Economics of Ageing


China is in a race between its slowing down economic growth and accelerating population aging. Based on macro data from national accounts and micro data from national household surveys, we apply the National Transfer Account framework to examine recent changes in income and consumption at both the aggregate and individual levels and project the effect of population aging on economic profiles. Our findings show that recent rapid economic growth has resulted in a sizable lifecycle surplus, with labor income far exceeding consumption. With expected increases in consumption, as shown in the historical experience of Taiwan, and with accelerating population aging, however, this surplus is expected to be erased before 2035.