China’s population grows at slowest pace to 1.412 bn, may begin to decline by next year: Census

Beijing: China’s population grew at its slowest pace to reach 1.41178 billion, keeping its status as the world’s most populous country amid official projections that the numbers may decline from next year, leading to labour shortages and a fall in consumption levels, impacting the country’s future economic outlook.

According to the seventh national population census released by the Chinese government on Tuesday, China’s population in all the 31 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities reached 1.41178 billion up by 5.38 per cent or 72.06 million from 2010. The figures do not include Hong Kong and Macao.

“Data shows that China’s population has maintained slow growth in the past decade,” Ning Jizhe, head of the National Bureau of Statistics, (NBS) told the media here while releasing the census results.

China has conducted a national census every 10 years since the 1990s. The country’s population on the mainland has reached 1.41178 billion, up by 5.38 per cent or 72.06 million from 2010, the latest census data shows.

As China faced population decline, India, whose population was pegged around 1.366 billion in 2019 is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country around 2027, according to a UN report released in June, 2019.

According to the data released by the NBS, the new census figures reveal that the demographic crisis China faced was expected to deepen as the population above 60 years grew to 264 million, up by 18.7 per cent last year.

“Data shows the aging of the Chinese population has further deepened, and we will continue to face the pressure to achieve long-term balanced population development,” Ning said.

China’s working-age population, or people aged between 16 and 59, stands at 880 million, Ning said, adding the average age of the Chinese population is 38.8, almost the same as the US’ 38, he said.

The growth rate of the population was 0.53 per cent annually on average in the 7th census conducted last year in comparison to 0.57 per cent in the 6th census in 2010 and 1.07 per cent in the fifth census held in 2000.

The highest growth of China’s population of 2.1 per cent was registered in the census survey held in 1982 after which the population continued to decline at a steady pace, which officials blamed on the decades-old one-child policy pursued by the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) to check the population growth and keep it under a manageable level.

Last month, the NBS denied the Financial Times story that the population of the world’s second-largest economy fell last year, which would have been the first decline since 1961.

The state-run Global Times in its report on census said China’s population is likely to decline as early as 2022′.

It quoted Chinese demographers as saying that the new census results revealed China’s population is not just declining but also its demographic structure is deteriorating with a growing aging population.

This will serve as an important reference for China’s population and economic policy adjustment as well as plans to put off retirement, said the report in Global Times, a CPC-run newspaper.

They said that although China reported population growth in 2020, the general declining trend was inevitable. China’s population is likely to start to decline as early as 2022, it said.

The declining population and sharply increasing ageing population and its impact on consumption levels were expected to influence China’s economic planning as it seeks to boost domestic consumption to reduce dependence on exports.

China stopped the one-child policy in 2016 and allowed two children, but it has had very limited impact to halt the declining population as few people came forward to have a second child.

Admitting problems related to the increase of ageing population, Ning said it will be China’s basic national condition for a long time, which is both a challenge and an opportunity.

China’s increasing elderly population will reduce the supply of labour force, and increase the burden on families’ elder care and the pressure on the supply of basic public services, he said.

But it can also promote the development of the “silver economy,” expand the consumption of products and services for the elderly, and boost technical advances, he said.

Yue Su, principal economist from The Economist Intelligence Unit warned that going forward, continued drops in the labour force “will place a cap on China’s potential economic growth.”

“The demographic dividend that propelled the country’s economic rise over recent decades is set to dissipate quickly,” she told the BBC.

In view of the steady decline in population, the CPC was expected to do away with the two child policy as well from this year.

He Yafu, an independent demographer, said there is no doubt that China will fully lift birth restrictions in the near future to cope with the declining birth rate. The CPC is likely to remove its family planning policy as early as this autumn, he said.

The new census revealed that China’s population living in urban areas grew by 63.89 per cent, totalling to 901.99 million, representing 63.89 per cent.

China, the second-largest economy, has conducted a national census every ten years since the 1990s.

According to the Outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035, China will take small steps to raise the retirement age.

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