What is the general trend of the last Chinese census?
The results arrived in May. The Chinese population continues to increase, to 1.41 billion (compared to 1.2 billion in 2000 and 1.34 billion in 2010) but the average annual growth rate has fallen from 0.57% (2000-10) to 0 , 53% (2010-20).
What’s the other big trend?
The rapid urbanization of China, in part due to the New Urbanization Plan (2014-20). Today, 64% of China lives in cities (compared to 50% in 2010 and 36% in 2000). Urbanization in India is estimated at only 34%.
What’s the good news?
China is not only more urban than before, it is better educated (primary and tertiary). Illiteracy increased from 4.08% in 2010 to 2.67% in 2020. In addition, the sex ratio at birth has improved, from 118 in 2010 to 111 in 2020.
What’s the bad news?
A lot of bad news. The impact of decades of one-child policy is not reversing. President Xi Jinping eased restrictions in 2016. There was a brief fertility surge for a year, where couples who wanted a second child had one. But since then, the story has turned badly again. Huang Wenzheng, a population expert, noted that births declined to 12 million last year. China’s total fertility rate (TFR) is 1.3, well below the replacement rate.
Will the new 3-child policy work?
Most couples don’t think so. Chinese social networks are full of their stories. Couples are often referred to as fang nu (domestic slaves) who pay off their mortgage. The cost of living is high, as do the costs of childcare, maternity and paternity leave vary and are considered insufficient. It is clear that for the 3 child policy to work, housing support and childcare services need to be integrated into policy making.
What about China’s aging problem?
Census figures show that there has been a 5% increase in the population aged 65 and over and those aged 60 and over. This is likely to put pressure on healthcare and on still rudimentary pension systems. The informal sector offers no guarantee of retirement; the rural pension is still a small amount, and most Chinese rely on the state-run urban pension system. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) said state-run pension coverage will peak at $ 1.09 trillion in 2027 and may run out in 2035.
There is also the big problem of migrants.
The census also shows that China’s floating population has grown by nearly 70% over the past decade, to 376 million. Urban China masks the plight of the floating population (migrants) which is strictly neither urban nor rural. Migrants cannot access social services. Migration has carved out rural and rusty areas (in the northeast) and created a generation of children left behind.
And an east-west problem.
Migration trends show that peacocks always fly east (meaning skilled workers / labor are flocking to the east coast) and not west (inside China). Chinese leaders want more migration to the west. But the population of the eastern provinces increased by 2.15 percentage points. And the Rust Belt provinces that have auto factories (Jilin, Heilongjiang and Liaoning) saw their populations shrink by 1.2 percentage points.
So, is China’s demographic dividend over?
The Chinese workforce (15-59 years old) has grown from 70% of the population in 2010 to 64% today. Demographers say the population will peak in 2027 and then decline. One short-term solution is to increase the retirement age. Female blue-collar workers retire at age 50, female white-collar workers at 55. The retirement age for men is 60. China can extend its retirement protocol. It is under study.
What are the Chinese leaders thinking about?
They are already working on alternatives to the demographic dividend, focusing on technology, especially automation and AI, as the driving force behind productivity. They know that population decline will lead to lower economic output, which will impact China’s rise.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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