On April 28, 2011, the National Bureau of Statistics hosted a press conference to release key figures from the 6th National Census. These figures have shocked all.
How big is China’s population, precisely?
As registered during the census, China’s population stood at 1,339,724,852, 7,390 or 5.84 per cent more than the figure recorded in the 5th Census in 2000. In other words, it grew at an annual rate of 0.57 per cent on the average during the past 10 years, 0.5 per cent slower than the 1.07 per cent rate seen between 1990 and 2000.
In just 10 years, the average annual growth rate has fallen by almost a half. Isn’t this a shocking fall? What we doubt, however, is whether the figure obtained in the 6th Census is creditable. According to figures from this census, the number of people aged 15-59 (born between 1951 and 1995) is 939.68 million, or 70.14 per cent of the total population. In the 5th Census, however, the figure stood at 933.98 million. Instead of seeing any of their contemporaries pass away during the past 10 years, they saw their total force multiply by 5.7 million!
According to the Life Table, the annual mortality rate of the population group aged below 55 is 0.22 per cent (or even bigger among those aged 56-59). Based on this calculation, only 913.43 million of the 933.98 million people born between 1951 and 1959, as registered in the 2000 census, would still be alive by the 2010 census. This meant a net surplus of 26.25 million people. If these people are deducted, the actual population would number 1.31 billion by 2010. If similar surpluses occur among other age groups, the figure would fall even further to 1.3 billion.
Another proof of super-low birth rate
To guarantee sustainable development of a society and its population, it is necessary to keep its birth rate around 2.3. Data from all real surveys (including the 2000 census and the 1 per cent sample survey in 2005) have showed, however, that China’s birth rate has stood at just around 1.3 since the mid 1990s. Unwilling to admit such a low birth rate, both the State Family Planning Commission and our demographers have borrowed different models of calculation to ‘correct’ it, putting it at 1.8 so as to justify the continuation of family planning policy.
The birth rate found in the 6th Census is of key importance to our modification of population policies. Although the National Bureau of Statistics has not released it, we can still make some rough calculations based on relevant figures. The number of people aged 0-14, for instance, accounted for 16.6 per cent of the total. If we set the average childbearing age of women at 25, the mothers of the 222.39 million children aged 0-14 (born between 1996 and 2010) would be born between 1971 and 1985. According to the 5th Census, the number of women in this age group was 154.16 million, testifying to an average birth rate of around 1.44 between 1996 and 2010.
Closer calculations can also be made with another method. According to figures from the 6th Census, the average annual number of babies born between 1996 and 2010 was 14.83 million. We can use the figures from the previous census to get the total number of women at the childbearing age (between 15 and 49). The childbearing women registered in 2010 were those born between 1961 and 1995, totalling 371.02 million in number. During these 15 years, the total number of childbearing women in different age groups was 357.95 million, hence the birth rate = 14.83 million ÷ 357.95 million x 35 = 1.45, with the actual birth rate between 1996 and 2010 standing at merely 1.35 or so. The birth rate previously published by the National Bureau of Statistics was basically accurate.
Imminent outbreak of a population crisis
According to forecasts by the United Nations in 2008, the percentage of people aged 60 and above would hit 12.3 and 8.2 per cent in China and 7.5 and 4.9 per cent in India by 2010. The lastest census has found, however, that the rate has grown bigger than expected in China, with the number of people aged 60 and above accounting for 13.26 per cent of its total population, 2.93 percent more than in 2000. Of these senior citizens, 8.87 per cent were 65 or above, 1.91 per cent bigger than in 2000, signifying a speed-up of aging of its population.
The census has also found aggravating gender imbalance in China for all its efforts to advocate love of girls in recent years. In 2010, for instance, the sex ratio at birth was 118.06, 1.2 percentage points bigger than the rate recorded in 2000, a proof that China can not effectively overcome its sex imbalance with its current population policies.
According to figures from the 2000 census, and with reference to those from the 6th Census in 2010, China has now become the strongest in terms of comprehensive national strength, so far as its population structure is concerned. In 2010, its working population, aged between 15 and 64, hit a record 1 billion, with its most dynamic population, aged between 19 and 22, standing at a record 100 million. Its population aged between 20 and 39 also reached 430 million. With dependency ratio among its aged population standing at 12 per cent and the overall ratio (dependency by the non-working population on the working population) at a record low of just 34 per cent, China has entered a historical period of lightest burdens.
Examined from its population structure, however, China will soon follow the steps of Japan who started its journey of economic downturn in 1990. But there is a difference between the two. Japan grew rich before it aged, while China has aged before growing rich. The average per-capita GDP in Japan is now over US$40,000, while the figure in China is merely US$4,000. By the year 2013, China’s total working population, aged between 15 and 64, will hit its peak and then turn downhill.
A society is most sensitive to changes in the number of its population aged 19-22, people who are most energetic labourers best needed by enterprises, and who are of age for college or military enrollement. In 2009, China saw its population aged 19-22 hit a record 100 million. This number has started to fall sharply, however, ever since then and will drop by an average annual rate of 43 per cent to 58 million by the year 2019. This would mean serious labour shortage for enterprises, and result in the withdrawal of them from China in large numbers. It would also mean a drying up of college enrollment. In 2009, the number of students sitting for college entrance examinations fell by 400,000. One year later, it fell further by 740,000. In the foreseeable future, a large number of colleges and universities in China will go bankrupt. On the defense front, there will also be a shortage of new soldiers and subsequently poorer quality of the army. The ratio of boys for military recruitment will grow from the current 10 per cent to 19 percent. The golden days of the real estate industry will also be gone and never return.
Arrival of the’express’ era for readjustment of population policies
Some people might have trusted luck before the latest census, dreaming for some misses in it and a real birth rate of 1.8. Believing that the ‘care about girls’ campaign can effectively help overcome the gender imbalance, they would not propose even the slighest change in the family planning policy. The State Family Planning Commission and the leading demographers have even thought of its smooth transition by allowing couples to have two babies instead of one. The results of the 6th Census has bared once again, however, the super-low birth rate, at about 1.3, and the growing gender imbalance. Fairly good efforts were made during this census to prevent any miss, suffering a miss ratio of merely 0.12 per cent. As the situation stands, the super-low birth rate revealed in the latest census can no longer be blamed on possible misses, as the State Family Planning Commission and the leading demographers used to. The reality has sounded a loud call. It is high time to take the fast lane for modification of our population policies.
Yi Fuxian is commentator of Economic Observer