China census shows population ageing and urban

Women push babies in prams through a Beijing park (5 April 2011) China has been looking to contain population growth with measures like its one-child policy

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China's census shows its population grew to 1.34 billion people by 2010, with a sharp rise in those over 60.

Nearly half of all Chinese now live in cities and people over the age of 60 now account for 13.3% of the population, up nearly 3% since 2000.

But the figures reveal that China's population is growing more slowly than in the past.

That could affect the economy, as the number of potential workers, especially from rural areas, could shrink.

The proportion of mainland Chinese people aged 14 or younger was 16.6%, down by 6.29 percentage points from the last census in 2000.

The number aged 60 or older grew to 13.26%, up 2.93 percentage points.

Chinese snapshot

When China carried out its first census in 1953 it had a population of 594 million, less than half the current figure.

This census, the first in 10 years, comes after a decade of rapid economic growth that has led to significant social change.


The census figures announced by the Chinese government were not particularly surprising - they show trends that were identified long ago.

But they do reveal some of the challenges and problems the government will have to tackle over the coming decades.

Chinese society is ageing. That means more pensioners, who will have to be looked after by fewer workers. China's family planning policies that limit many families to just one child is partly the cause.

There are now nearly twice as many migrant workers as 10 years ago, when the last census was taken. These are farmers who travel to the country's booming towns and cities to find work. But in their new homes they have only limited access to services, such as healthcare and education for their children.

Officials have also revealed that there are now nearly six boys born to every five girls. Traditionally, Chinese families have preferred boys. But this will lead to problems for some when they grow up and try to find a wife.

The results revealed that almost half of all Chinese - 49.7% of the population - now live in cities, up from about 36% 10 years ago. Many have been drawn to jobs in China's factories and coastal industrial zones.

The census for the first time counted migrant workers where they were living, rather than where they were registered. It found that more than 220 million Chinese had worked away from home for over six months in 2010, almost double the previous figure.

The government's strict controls on family size, including its one-child policy for most urban families, have reduced annual population growth to below 1% percent. The rate is projected to turn negative in coming decades.

There has been growing speculation in the country's media about the possibility that the government will ease the policy - introduced in 1980 as a temporary measure to curb surging population growth - and allow more people to have two children.

As it currently stands, most urban couples are limited to one child and rural families to two. The average household now numbers 3.1 people, down from 3.44 a decade ago.

Some demographers have said that the limits on family size may now threaten China's economic future, with fewer people left to pay and care for an older population, as well as to work in the factories that have transformed the country into the world's second largest economy.

"The data from this census show that our country faces some tensions and challenges regarding population, the economy and social development," said Ma Jiantang, head of the National Bureau of Statistics.

"First, the ageing trend is accelerating, and second the size of the mobile population is constantly expanding."

He said China would have to "actively respond to the new challenges in demographic development".

But state-run Xinhua news agency said President Hu Jintao told top party lawmakers on Tuesday that China's family planning policy would remain unchanged and the low birth-rate be maintained.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I am not sure this article reveals the gravity of the situation.Advocating such policies has resulted in a massively skewed sex ratio in China. It has resulted in pampered children in the cities, who are not as 'hardy' as the previous generation. More importantly, unlike western Europe China is not a welfare state and hence it is a genuine concern as to who will take care of these old people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    The One Child policy created a monsterous society - a society without cousins, nephews, nieces, aunts and uncles. All you have are parents, grandparents, son/daughter and grandson/granddaughter. You don't have a family tree, you have a family line. The big problem is that when a young couple get married, in future they have 5 people to support - two pairs of grandparents and one offspring.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Several have noted there are problems inherent in an aging population. This is, of course, correct, but the problems inherent in an increasing population size dwarf those of an aging population. Our common desire is for everyone to be healthy, wealthy and wise; those goals are vastly more achievable with a smaller population. China might, after a fashion, be aware of this. If so, then bravo!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Although China has over 1.3 billion people the labor shortage is huge! China's desire to transition into a more industrialized economy has been affected by not having a labor force with the right skills/education and experience.
    Birth rates continue to decrease due to lack of women, the elderly burden becomes heavier. China need to at least adjust the policy in within the next 10 years.


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