Almost half the people in China, the world's most populous nation, now live in cities and more than twice the numbers of Chinese students go to college compared to a decade ago.
But new data reveals the second-largest economy is fast ageing as its population growth slows, sparking debate at home on competition from a younger Indian workforce.
Census results released on Thursday put China's population at 1.34 billion in 2010 with 73.9 million more people since 2000. India, which added 181 million in the last decade to hit 1.21 billion, will surpass the Chinese population size by 2025.
"China's ageing population is increasing quickly while the birth rate remains low," said chief statistician Ma Jiantang, referring to 'tensions and challenges' ahead.
China's population growth slowed to an annual 0.57 per cent during the last decade, down from 1.07 per cent in the nineties. At the same time, the economy urbanised faster than ever before. China's urban population now almost equals its rural population, with 49.7 per cent living in cities, up 13.4 per cent since 2000.
"China is now a society on its feet,'' population expert Wang Feng at the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy in Beijing, told HT. Migration has swollen faster than forecast to 221 million, with over 100 million more new migrants straining urban resources as the economy shot to number two status.
"One out of every six Chinese is away for over six months,'' said Wang. "We had thought migration would have slowed down. The economic boom has led to the fastest decade of urbanisation in Chinese history.''
The lower birth rate and higher migration shrank average household size from 3.4 persons to 3.1. China's family planning policy limiting urban families to one child and rural families to two children prevented about 400 million births since 1980. This sixth census has churned internal debate on allowing two children per family.
President Hu Jintao said this week that China will continue to aim for a low birth rate. He did not rule out changes to the one-child policy. "The opponents (of the policy) say if the depleting work force is not replenished, China will have difficulty to compete with countries like India,'' said a People's Daily report.
By 2020, when India is likely to contribute 136 million to the global labour force compared to China's 23 million, the average Indian will be 29 and the average Chinese 37.
Chinese citizens above 60 years old constitute 13.26 per cent of the population, up 3 per cent from 2000. Chinese below 14 years make up 16.6 per cent of the population, down 6.29 per cent. "Fertility has dropped to an alarmingly low level, putting China at the level of Spain and close to Germany,'' said Wang.
College-educated Chinese more than doubled in the last decade while people with only primary schooling is declining, giving China an advantage over India where a 74.04 per cent literacy level is still lower than China's 94 per cent.
1.3397 billion, up from 1.265 bn in 2000
118.06 boys to every 100 girls
49.68 pc urban population
13.26 pc older than 60 years
16.6 pc below 14 years
Han Chinese population 0.08 per cent lower
8930 of every 100,000 people go to college