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China's population in 2021 census China demographics

China’s population and changing demographics: Based on the 2020 Seventh National Population Census

According to data from China’s Seventh National Population Census released in May 2021, the country’s population reached 1,412 million in 2020, but with only marginal growth in the past decade. Notably, the age group of 60 and over has expanded significantly, up by 5.44% from the 2010 census, reflecting an ageing society in China. This result has sparked discussion domestically and internationally on these data’s implications for China’s future.

China begins 7th national population census
Xinhua Net: China begins 7th national population census

Background of the Seventh National Population Census in China

The Seventh National Population Census in China was conducted between November and December 2020. The National Bureau of Statistics conducts censuses every decade, and this time, 7 million census takers were deployed to enquire data in a door-to-door manner. For the first time in history, the authorities employed electronic devices and the internet with big data for the census. According to the State-run Global Times, the accurate population information from the census is “for making policies related to social and economic development during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25).” Structural change: population growth and age composition

National Bureau of Statistics, designed by Daxue Consulting, Population change between 1990 and 2020 in China

Source: National Bureau of Statistics, designed by Daxue Consulting, China’s population change between 1990 and 2020

Population growth: marginal growth and expected decline in near future

The census data show that China’s population increased to 1.41 billion in 2020 from 1.34 billion in 2010. The average annual growth rate was 0.53 in the past decade, lower than 0.57 between 2000 and 2010, despite the growth stimulated by the relaxation of the one-child policy since 2013.

The annual growth rate has been in a continuous decline in the past five decades due to the strict control of the population growth under the one-child policy. According to the State-run Global Times’s report, Chinese demographers indicate that “the general declining trend was inevitable” and predict that the population is “likely to start to decline as early as 2022.”

Age composition: a rapidly ageing society

The data reflects the rapid ageing trend in China; the National Bureau of Statistics states that “the further ageing of the population imposed continued pressure on the long-term balanced development of the population in the coming period.”

In 2020, there were 253.38 million (17.95%) persons in the age group of 0 to 14. In the past decade, the portions of children in China were up by 1.35 percentage points from 2010. The increase in the share of children in society demonstrates the positive effects of the relaxation of the one-child policy since 2013. The number of second-child births accounted for around 50% of total births in 2017, while it was 30% in 2013 before the beginning of the two-child policy.

However, the two-child policy alone could not create a substantial jump in the birth rate as the authority would have hoped. According to the data, the fertility rate was only 1.3 children per woman in 2020, below the authority’s 2016 target of reaching 1.8 children per woman by 2020.  It reflects the changing mindset regarding having children in China, especially in urban areas where childcare costs have skyrocketed.

The data shows that 894.38 million (63.35%) were in the age group of 15 to 59. The portion of the age group, which makes up the majority of the working population, went down by 6.79 percentage points from 2010. The shrinking working population is likely to result in higher demands of automation in the country. The development of automation tools such as robots and artificial intelligence has already become the country’s priority, as indicated in recent major official guidelines, such as Made in China 2025 and the 14th Five Year Plan.

The census data also reflects a rapidly expanding elderly population in China. 262.02 million (18.70%) in the age group of 60 and over, up by 5.44 percentage points from 2010. According to China Briefing, the large portion of the elderly population will “demand unprecedented investments in China’s elder care industry,” on top of healthcare already being “among the highest priority investment areas” in China after the COVID-19 pandemic. Other markets, such as tourism markets,

Geographical change: rural-urban migration and floating population

Rural-urban migration: further urbanization

According to the census data, 901.99 million persons, or 63.89% of the total population in China, lived in urban areas in 2020. Compared with the data from 2010, the urban population in China increased by 236.42 million, up by 14.21%.

The data confirms the continuity of the rural-urban migration trend in the past decade. Other than the relatively more abundant opportunities in urban areas, agricultural modernization and policies that reallocate rural populations to urban areas also contribute to the pace of urbanization. The National Bureau of Statistics indicates that urbanization in the past decade “has been advanced steadily.”

Floating population: even more populous first tiered cities

Other than migration from rural areas to urban ones, many urban residents have also moved to more economically advanced areas. The “floating population,” those who “lived in places other than their household registration [cities]” in China, reached 375.82 million; among them, 124.84 million reside in provinces different from their household registration areas. The number of “floating population” went up by 69.73%.

Most of the movements of the migration have been towards major city clusters such as the Yangtze River Delta and River Delta. The movement will create even more dense urban areas. As a result, major cities are likely to expand outward and, in some cases, create closer connections with surrounding cities to accommodate this population growth.

Other interesting data: household size, education, and foreigners in China

Household size: a decrease caused by increasing mobility and changing mindset

The average household size decreased to 2.62 persons in 2020, from 3.10 in 2010. The National Bureau of Statistics interprets the downsize as the result of “increasing population mobility” and the younger population’s tendency to move out after marriage.

The changing mindset among the younger population on independence after marriage, combined with migration flow towards developed cities, is likely to further add pressure on the housing markets in first- and second-tiered cities where the housing prices have already increased substantially.

Education: more educated population for industrial transformation

The census data shows that 218.36 million Chinese have at least a university degree. That makes more than 15% of the population university degree holders. A decade ago, only less than 9% of the population held university degrees. The expansion of the educated population will facilitate the industrial transformation in China, allowing the country to grow in industries requiring high human capital.

However, the rising demands of higher education are likely to increase pressure on China’s education system, where the competition at each stage of education is already fierce. At the same time, as a more qualified generation entering the job market after higher education, the competition in the job market is becoming more intense.

Foreign population: 30% increase in foreign population in China since 2010

The census data show that more than 1.4 million foreigners and people from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, resided in China in 2020. The data includes those who lived in the mainland for more than six months. Among them, 444 thousand had moved to the mainland for employment and 220 thousand for education. Many of them have stayed in the mainland for extended periods; almost half of those not born in the mainland had resided for over five years. Specifically, 845 thousand out of those 1.4 million are foreigners, up by more than 250 thousand from 2010, despite the COVID-19 travel restrictions.

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