Making sense of the census


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China released the findings of its once-in-a-decade national population census last week, revealing fresh insights into latest demographic trends and providing new data to support future Government policy and priorities.

Whilst a slowing of the population growth rate over the past 10 years was the main takeaway picked up by the world’s media, there were a number of points that will have escaped anyone who didn’t take a closer look. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Despite a reduction in the growth rate, China’s total population actually increased to 1.41 billion in 2020 from 1.34 billion in 2010 (see chart).
  • Whilst there is an increase in those aged 65 and above (from 8.9% to 13.5%) there has also been a small increase in the share of the child population (up to age 14) following the removal of the one child policy in 2016.
  • China’s rapid urbanisation policy has seen more people move from rural areas into new cities, a major driver of increased efficiency and economic growth. The share of the urban population grew from 49.7% to 63.9% over the past 10 years
  • The average size of a family household fell below 3 for the first time, reaching 2.62 from 3.10 ten years ago, due to increased population mobility and improved housing conditions for young people, encouraging them to leave home earlier.
  • There is a significant increase in educational attainment levels with 154,670 people in every 1 million having a college education or above, up by 65,370 compared to 10 years ago.
  • The gender ratio of 51.2% males and 48.8% females has remained steady over the past decade
  • China’s fertility rate has declined from 5.8 in 1950 to 1.3 today, creating some significant challenges for the future. Imagine what China’s population would be today had it not been for the one child policy introduced in 1980!
  • Over 200 million people in China are single. It’s one of the highest numbers in the world. While some studies have linked this to the gender ratio mentioned above, it appears that more young Chinese people are putting off marriage by choice.

There will continue to be furious debates about the inevitable rise in China’s ageing demographics and the impact caused by a shrinking workforce on future economic growth but, as you can see from the above, there are a number of positive signs for the future, particularly in educational attainment which is the key to supporting China’s future ambitions.


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