The population of mainland China increased 5.38% to 1.41 billion, according to the 2020 results of the country’s once-in-a-decade official census. (File photo)
The population of mainland China increased 5.38% to 1.41 billion, according to the 2020 results of the country’s once-in-a-decade official census. (File photo)

China now has 1.41 billion people; growth in 10 years only 72 million

The latest numbers will add pressure on Beijing to incentivise child-bearing as the most populous country deals with a rapidly ageing population and the added economic burden
By Sutirtho Patranobis
UPDATED ON MAY 11, 2021 03:15 PM IST

China’s population is growing at its most sluggish pace in decades, latest census data released on Tuesday said with the country adding only 72 million people in the past decade. The average annual growth rate was 0.53% over the last 10 years, down from 0.57% between 2000 and 2010, taking the population to 1.41 billion. The total population on the mainland stood at 1.41178 billion on November 1.

The population growth rate is the slowest since 1953 when the first census was carried out. The slump in the growth rate – despite Beijing withdrawing the one-child policy in 2016 after being in force since the late 1970s -- will add pressure on Beijing to incentivise childbearing as the most populous country deals with a rapidly ageing population and the added economic burden.

The fresh census results showed that China’s “…population is not just declining but also its demographic structure is deteriorating with a growing aging population, will serve as an important reference for China’s population and economic policy adjustment as well as plans to put off retirement, which may come in the next year or two”, a state media report said.

Ning Jizhe, head of China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said 12 million babies were born last year - a significant decrease from the 18 million in 2016 and 14.65 million in 2019. Ning, however, added that it was “still a considerable number”. Ning said a lower fertility rate is a natural result of China’s social and economic development.

The average age of the Chinese population stood at 38.8 in 2020 compared to 38 in the US.

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China’s demographic situation is similar to Japan, South Korea and other developed countries, which are facing the problem of an ageing and dependent population. But it will have to deal with the reality that, unlike the developed countries, China has not been able to yet generate similar levels of household wealth.

The census found there has been a rapid shrinking of China’s labour force in the past decade while the ageing population continued to increase. The proportion of people aged between 15 and 59 was 894 million, down by 6.79 percentage points from that in the 2010 census.

“The number of people aged 60 and above grew to 264 million, up from 177.6 million in the 2010 census, and the number of people aged 65 and above grew to 190 million, up from 118.8 million in the 2010 census,” the state-run tabloid, Global Times reported, quoting the new data.

Huang Wenzheng, a demography expert at the Beijing-based think-tank Centre for China and Globalisation, said: “That (the census data) means the official number of the births every year for the past 10 years were mostly accurate. It also means the downward trend is more significant than what we expected in the recent years.”

The two-child policy, which was implemented in 2016, has failed to make an impact on the low birth rates. “From the trend of population development in recent years, the population growth will continue to slow in the future,” NBS head Ning said. “China’s population will reach a peak in the future, but the specific time is still uncertain. It is estimated that China’s total population will remain at more than 1.4 billion in the near future.”

The severity of China’s ageing crisis is beyond anyone’s imagination, said Yi Fuxian, senior demography researcher from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.“China’s adoption of one-child policy for four decades played a significant role by changing people’s views of childbearing; and, the economy, social environment, education and almost everything else relates back to the one-child policy. The willingness to give birth in Mainland China is lower than that in Taiwan and South Korea, and the contraceptive rate and female labour participation rate are higher than those in Taiwan and South Korea,” Yi said.

He Yafu, an independent demographer, told the Global Times that there is no doubt that China will “fully lift birth restrictions in the near future…likely to remove its family planning policy as early as this autumn during the sixth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC).”

Fully lifting birth restrictions may not be enough to avert a fall in total population, or prevent China from becoming another Japan, demographers said, noting that Beijing should come up with more measures to encourage childbirth, such as subsidising couples who choose to have more than one baby.

A total of 679,000 census-related institutions were created in the country’s provinces, cities, counties, townships, and villages. Over 7 million census takers were organised to document demographic information door to door across the country.

The census does not include Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan residents and foreigners, who live in the Mainland’s 31 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities, the NBS said.

China conducted national censuses in 2010, 2000, 1990, 1982, 1964, and 1953.

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