China Releases First Census in a Decade

Still the most populous country, but for how long . . . 

China’s National Bureau of Statistics has released the results of its seventh and once-a-decade census. The census covers the population of mainland China and excludes Hong Kong and Macau. It shows that the Chinese population increased by 5.38 per cent in 2020, reaching 1.41 billion, the lowest increase since China began collecting census data in 1953. The census also shows that China’s elderly population is increasing, with the number of people aged 60 and above jumping by 50 per cent compared to 10 years ago. The 15-to-59 age group, comprising most of the working population and representing about two-thirds of the total population, dropped by seven per cent. The urban population is also increasing, with 64 per cent of the population now living in urban centres, a 14 percentage-point increase since 2010.

Significant gender imbalance . . .

Another striking reveal from the census is China’s increasing gender imbalance and low birth rate. The one-child policy, implemented in 1978 to slow the population growth and subsequently relaxed in 2016, is believed to have led to a skewed population. According to the census, 111.3 boys were born for every 100 girls in 2020, with women making up only 48.76 per cent of the population. But the one-child policy doesn’t explain everything; experts also point to the decreasing birth rate in China, a phenomenon that started before the implementation of the restrictive policy to explain China’s flattening population growth. They argue for better family planning but warn that encouraging families to have more children will be more complicated than implementing birth limits.

Has China’s population reached its peak?

Many factors are contributing to China’s relatively slower population growth, including fewer women of childbearing age, as well as couples opting to delay having children or not having them at all due to the high cost of raising kids. This is one of China’s biggest long-term, socio-economic challenges: keeping the economy growing while the population shrinks and ages. While Chinese authorities insist that transitioning from a low-end manufacturing economy to boosting automation and prioritizing digital and high-tech industries will help, Beijing says it will also implement measures to encourage childbirth. Chinese demographers indeed warn that, without an increase in the birth level, India will soon replace China as the most populous country in the world by 2023 or 2024.