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The Middle-aged and Knowledge Workers: Demographic and Economic Changes in the Pearl River Delta, China


Demographic and economic development can be seen as two sides of one coin in the process of regional development. This article deals with how economic and demographic changes influence the settlement structure and development of the Pearl River Delta (PRD) and lead to regionalization processes within the large agglomerations. The aim of the study was to understand the interrelation between the three aspects: economic change, demographic change and change of spatial structures. Based on population age and occupational data, spatial changes in demographic structure and economic activities from 2000 to 2010 were analyzed. It was found that the demographic and economic change reflected changing spatial patterns between the urban centers and the hinterland in the PRD. Two processes were apparent during the studied period in the hinterlands and the high-density areas of the PRD. On one hand, the hinterlands in the PRD attracted more manufacturing activities, while the inner high-density areas experienced a decrease in manufacturing, associated with an increase in young labor in regions where workplaces that only required limited education expanded. On the other hand, specialization in knowledge-intensive business services increased in the inner high-density areas, which also saw an increased share in the older population. This finding suggests that increasing knowledge-intensive work correlates with higher age structures due to the longer formal education required and also the benefits knowledge workers accrue through experience and gained knowledge over time. Therefore, based on a transformation process, we tentatively conclude that the populations in high-density areas in the PRD became more middle-aged and were represented by more knowledge workers.

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Correspondence to Yuming Shen.

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Foundation item: Under the auspices of the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 41471107)

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Feng, P., Growe, A. & Shen, Y. The Middle-aged and Knowledge Workers: Demographic and Economic Changes in the Pearl River Delta, China. Chin. Geogr. Sci. 32, 268–284 (2022).

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  • manufacturing
  • knowledge-intensive business services (KIBS)
  • economic change
  • demographic change
  • Pearl River Delta