Index > Briefing
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
China's Seventh National Population Census and Its Implications

On May 11, China's National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has released the data of the Seventh National Population Census (here in after referred to as the Census). The census was carried out from the midnight of November 1, 2020 as the reference time. Data from the census show the size, structure, and distribution of China's population (excluding Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan), reflecting the characteristics and trend of the current population change.

The population issue facing China is a holistic, long-term, and strategic one. Population resource is the foundation of China's statehood and the object of all its public services. The one-month delay in the release of the census data and the lack of convincing explanations from the relevant authorities have sparked concern and many doubts. In this context, researchers at ANBOUND noted that the census data were quickly analyzed in a "critical" manner, with a number of "problems" and "loopholes" identified. For example, there are doubts about the population growth of 11.73 million in 2020 and the 14.61 million increase in the population over 65 years old. It is estimated that with the analyses of various self-media, more alleged "problems" will be found, and the NBS will therefore bear more doubts and pressure.

However, in terms of statistics, some statistical biases are unavoidable. Improving the quality of statistical data is a complex systematic project. Despite the official data (such as GDP data, fiscal data, etc.) in the past have also been questioned, most of the general studies at home and abroad still used official data. Therefore, as long as there is no systematic data falsification, a reasonable statistical deviation within the acceptable range should be acceptable. Of course, deliberate data modification does not fall into this category.

Based on census data released by the NBS, researchers at ANBOUND made the following interpretations:

(1) National Population: The population of Mainland China totaled 1.41178 billion people, this is an increase of 72.06 million people compared with the population of 1.33972 million people in 2010 (data of the Sixth National Population Census), up by 5.38%. The average annual growth rate was 0.53%, down by 0.04 percentage point compared with the average annual growth rate of 0.57% from 2000 to 2010. The data showed that the population of China has maintained a lower growth momentum in the past decade.

There are several points to note about the total population: (i) China's total population has maintained positive growth, disproving the Financial Times' mistaken assumption that China's population was growing negatively. The total number of population is a benchmark standard indicator of the overall population condition, much like GDP as economic indicator. (ii) China's population growth continues to slow down, approaching zero growth. The low fertility rate behind the low population growth is worrying, given that China's aging population has longer life expectancy. If this trend continues, China will experience negative population growth in the near future.

Source: National Bureau of Statistics

(2) Population by Household Types: In China, there were 494.16 million households with 1.29281 billion people and 28.53 million collective households with 118.97 million people. The average size of a family household was 2.62 people, down 0.48 people from 3.10 people in 2010.

Households continued to downsize because of increasing population mobility and the fact that young people after marriage lived separately from their parents due to improved housing conditions. It is worth noting that the shrinking size of households is also associated with the growing phenomenon of declining birth rate.

(3) Population by Regions: The population in the eastern, central, western, and northeastern regions accounted for 39.93%, 25.83%, 27.12%, and 6.98% of the total, respectively. Compared with the data from 2010, the proportion of the population in the eastern and western regions increased by 2.15 and 0.22 percentage points respectively, while the proportion of the population in the central and northeastern regions decreased by 0.79 and 1.20 percentage points respectively.

The Census shows that the regional differences in population distribution are increasing, and the population is further congregated in economically developed regions and city clusters. As ANBOUND's previously pointed out, China's regional differences in economy, education, population, public services, etc., will lead to the increasing of comprehensive regional development differences, and even leading to regional economic problems in the future (e.g., regional economic problems in Northeast China, Shanxi, etc.). In the future, narrowing the regional development gap will become another major development issue for China after it has achieved its poverty alleviation goal.

(4) Gender Composition: Of the national population, 723.34 million people or 51.24% were males while 688.44 million people or 48.76% were females. The gender ratio (female = 100, male to female) was 105.07, basically the same level with a slight decline compared with that in 2010. The gender ratio for the newborns was 111.3, down by 6.8 compared with that in 2010.

It should be pointed out that although the gender composition of China's population has been improving, gender disparity among the newborn population is still considerably severe. In developed countries such as the United States, Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom, gender ratio at birth is generally around 105 and 106. Therefore, gender disparity among the newborns in China needs to be improved in the future.

(5) Age Composition. There were 253.38 million people in the age group of 0 to 14, accounting for 17.95%; 894.38 million people in the age group of 15 to 59, accounting for 63.35%; and 264.02 million people in the age group of 60 and over, accounting for 18.70% (specifically, there were 190.64 million people in the age group of 65 and over, accounting for 13.50%). Compared with 2010, the shares of people in the age groups of 0 to 14, 15 to 59, and 60 and above were up by 1.35 percentage points, down by 6.79 percentage points, and up by 5.44 percentage points respectively. At present, the average age of the national population is 38.8.

Source: National Bureau of Statistics

It can be clearly seen from the above data that the share of the child population in China rose again, but the share of the working-age population has decreased significantly, and the degree of aging has further deepened. This means that China is approaching towards an aging society. In the future, China will not only face the pressure of long-term population development, but also face the huge burden of pensions and social security. As ANBOUND has analyzed in the past, aging population and declining birth rate are long-term challenges for China's future development.

(6) Educational level: There were 218.36 million people (accounting for about 15.47% of Mainland China's population) with university education. Compared with 2010, the number of people with university education went up from 8,930 people to 15,467 people per 100,000 people, the average years of schooling for people aged 15 and above increased from 9.08 years to 9.91 years, and the illiteracy rate dropped from 4.08% to 2.67%.

The data show the continued improvement of education in China. However, in terms of development, China still needs to make significant improvements in education, such as raising the compulsory education period to 12 years, improving higher education and vocational education, and further reducing the illiteracy rate.

(7) Urban and Rural Population. There were 901.99 million people living in urban areas, accounting for 63.89%; 509.79 million people living in rural areas, accounting for 36.11%. Compared with 2010, the urban population increased by 236.42 million and the rural population decreased by 164.36 million. The share of urban population went up by 14.21 percentage points.

Judging from the urban and rural population data, China's urbanization process is still relatively fast. According to the Outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan, the urbanization rate should reach 65% by 2025.The census data show that the share of urban population has reached 63.89%. If this figure is considered in compassion with urbanization rate, it is very close to the 14th Five-Year target. This means that when the 14th Five-Year Plan was formulated, the rate of population movement between urban and rural areas may not have been taken into account. In terms of the population who lived in places other than their household registration, the main blockage is still the system of household registration.

(8) Population migration: The number of the population who lived in places other than their household registration areas reached 492.76 million. Specifically, the population who lived in places other than their household registration but still in the same city totaled 116.94 million and the migrants numbered 375.82 million. Of this figure, the population moving to other provinces has reached 124.84 million. Compared with 2010, the population who lived in places other than their household registration areas went up by 88.52%, the population who lived in places other than their household registration but still in the same city up by 192.66%, and the percentage of migrants up by 69.73%.

The above data show that the trend of domestic population mobility has become increasingly evident, and the size of the floating population has further grown. On the one hand, this shows that the population mobility is intensified under urbanization; on the other hand, it is also related to the population mobility across regions under regional economic differences. Urbanization, regional economic differences, and urban-rural differences are still the major factors leading to population mobility.

Final analysis conclusion:

Data from the Seventh National Population Census shows that the population of Mainland China totaled 1.41178 billion people, with an average annual growth rate of 0.53% over the past decade. The impact of the aging population and declining birth rate is also emerging. Regional economic differences further promote the inter-regional movement of the population, forming the population differences among the regions. In addition, the one-child policy over the past few years has resulted in a significant decline in the share of the working-age population in China, which will have a significant impact on the country's future industrial and economic structures.

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