China may have 90 million fewer people than claimed (that’s twice of Spain’s population)
China’s population may be much smaller than official data suggests, according to a group of researchers, meaning the nation will be replaced by India as the world’s most populous country sooner than expected.
It may also mean the problems created by China’s rapidly ageing population and shrinking workforce are more serious than feared, according to the experts.
China’s real population may have been about 1.29 billion last year, 90 million fewer people than the official figure released by the National Bureau of Statistics, Yi Fuxian, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said at a symposium at Peking University on Monday.
That’s about twice the size of Spain’s population, which is slightly over 46 million.
Yi, the author of Big Country with an Empty Nest, an influential book arguing that China is in need of more rather than fewer births, said China’s official population data after 1990 has been overstated.
His research suggested there were 377.6 million new births from 1991 to 2016, less than the official figure of 464.8 million.
Yi’s theory of overstated government data was echoed by other researchers attending the forum which called for the removal of population controls and improved data quality.
According to official statistics, India’s population reached 1.33 billion last year, compared with China’s official figure of 1.37 billion in 2015.
China has gradually loosened the decades old one-child policy since 2011 as its population started to age and the labour force shrank.
Parents are now able to have two children, but the central government has still refrained from completely lifting birth control.
China has the world’s largest population aged over 60. This section of society accounted for 15.5 per cent of the Chinese population in 2014. The United Nations estimates about 500 million people in China’s population will be over 60 by the middle of the century.
The low birthrate has led to a shrinking workforce, with cheap labour previously one of the mainstays underpinning China’s rapid economic growth over the past three decades.
“The government has overestimated the birth rate and underestimated the speed of demographic changes,” said Li Jianxin, a demographer at Peking University and vocal opponent of China’s family planning policy.
The inaccuracy of the data resulted in the failure of the authorities to take timely, corrective measures, he said.
Liang Zhongtang, a researcher at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, also questioned the accuracy of the official birth data.
“The population data since the adaption of one-child policy has been seriously false and the family planning report has been overstated by 30 per cent,” said Liang. “The birth control policy which has last nearly four decades is not in accordance with reality. It is imperative that the government should abandon the family planning system.”