The population rose by 72 million over the past 10 years to 1.411 billion in 2020, the
Chinese leaders have enforced birth limits since 1980 to restrain population growth but worry the number of working-age people is falling too fast, disrupting efforts to create a prosperous economy. They have eased birth limits, but couples are put off by high costs, cramped housing and job discrimination faced by mothers.
Reflecting the issue’s sensitivity, the statistics agency took the unusual step last month of announcing the population grew in 2020 but gave no total. That looked like an effort to calm companies and investors after The Financial Times reported the census might have found a surprise decline.
China’s working age population of people aged 15 to 59 is declining after hitting a 2011 peak of 925 million. That is boosting wages as companies compete for workers. But it might hamper efforts to develop new industries and self-sustaining economic growth based on consumer spending instead of trade and investment.
Thursday's announcement gave no details of births last year, but earlier data showed the annual number falling since 2016.
“We are more concerned about the fast decline in the working-age population,” said Lu Jiehua, a professor of population studies at
The working-age population was three-quarters of the total in 2011 but will fall to just above half by 2050, according to Lu.
“If the population gets too old, it will be impossible to solve the problem through immigration,” said Lu. “It needs to be dealt with at an early stage.”
Young couples who might want to have a child face daunting challenges. Many share crowded apartments with their parents. Child care is expensive and maternity leave short. Most single mothers are excluded from medical insurance and social welfare payments. Some women worry giving birth could hurt their careers.
“First, at the interview, if you are married and childless, they may ask, do you have plans to have a kid?” said He Yiwei, who is preparing to return from
“And then when you have a kid, you take pregnancy leave, but will you still have this position after you take the leave?” said He. “Relative to men, when it comes to work, women have to sacrifice more.”
The ruling party is making changes, but it isn’t clear whether any are big enough to ease strains on an underfunded retirement system.
The party took its most dramatic step when restrictions in effect since 1980 that limited many Chinese couples to having only one child were eased in 2015 to allow two.
However, China’s birth rate, paralleling trends in
Demographers say official birth limits concealed what would have been a further fall in the number of children per family.
The one-child limits, enforced with threats of fines, loss of jobs and other pressure, led to abuses including forced abortions. A preference for sons led parents to kill or abandon baby girls, leading to warnings millions of men might be unable to find a wife, fueling social tension.
The ruling party says it prevented 400 million potential births, averting shortages of food and water. But demographers say if
After limits were eased in 2015, many couples with one child had a second but total births fell in 2017-18 because fewer had any at all.
Some researchers argue China’s population already is shrinking, which they say should prompt drastic policy changes.
Yi Fuxian, a senior scientist in obstetrics and gynecology at the
“China’s economic, social, educational, tech, defense and foreign policies are built on the foundation of wrong numbers,” said Yi.
Chinese regulators talk about raising the official retirement age of 55 to increase the pool of workers.
Female professionals welcome a chance to stay in satisfying careers. But others resent being forced to work more years. And keeping workers on the job, unable to help look after children, might discourage their daughters from having more.
An earlier government estimate said
The latest data put
India’s population last year was estimated by the
Already, populations likely are shrinking in “a few pockets around China,” said Sabu Padmadas, a demographer at Britain’s
Tuesday's announcement said 25 of 31 provinces and regions in
In Wenzhou, a coastal business center south of
“Eventually, what will happen is, it will spread,” said Padmadas.
Wu reported from