China's census shows population growth slowed

Joggers run along the Bund across from the Lujiazui Financial District in Shanghai, China, on Saturday, April 10, 2021.

Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

BEIJING — China’s once-a-decade census showed the population of the mainland was 1.41 billion people as of Nov. 1, 2020, marking the slowest growth rate since the 1950s.

The average annual growth rate was 0.53% over the past 10 years, according to the results of the seventh national census, released Tuesday.

That’s down from an average annual growth rate of 0.57% between 2000 and 2010.

Ning Jizhe, National Bureau of Statistics commissioner, attributed the decline primarily to a continued drop in the number of women of childbearing age, a delay in giving birth and rising costs of raising children.

Several years ago, Chinese authorities began to roll back a decades-old “one-child policy” and allow people to have two children. But births continued to fall, dropping 15% in 2020 in a fourth straight year of decline.

The population survey, which was conducted late last year, was originally expected to be released in April.

In 2019, mainland China’s population rose by 4.67 million to just over 1.4 billion people, according to official figures by the National Bureau of Statistics.

The aging of the population has significant implications for China’s economic development.

The proportion of China’s working age population, or those between 15 and 59 years old, fell by 6.79 percentage points in 2020 versus 2010, the data showed. In contrast, the ratio of people aged 60 and up rose by 5.44 percentage points.

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The rate at which China’s population is aging is faster than that of southeast Asian nations, which could give those countries an opportunity to draw some labor-intensive manufacturing away from China, said Yue Su, principal economist at The Economist Intelligence Unit. But she noted that China’s rate of aging is still slower than developed Asian economies such as South Korea.

Su said since it takes about 15 to 20 years for policy changes to affect the labor supply, there is an urgency for authorities to relax restrictions on births.

Earlier this year, researchers with the People’s Bank of China published a paper calling for the full removal of restrictions on childbirth. The paper also gave other suggestions for encouraging more births, while describing how China’s aging population puts the country at an economic disadvantage to the U.S. and India.

Chinese move to wealthier regions

The census also showed that more Chinese were moving away from the poorer northeastern part of the country, to the wealthier eastern and southern regions. In fact, three provinces in northeastern China saw their population decline in the last decade.

The migrant population increased by 69.73%, or about 154 million people, the census found. However, more people chose to stay within the same province.

“Overall this movement is positive to China’s economy overall,” Su said. “It basically reflects the resources are concentrated around cities and regions that have higher economic efficiency.”

The number of people living in urban areas rose to 63.89%, up from about 49% a decade earlier.


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