Population growth has been brought under control thanks to the country's family planning policy, China's top census official said yesterday.
'China has not only tided itself over the third baby boom since 1949 and put rapid population growth under effective control, but has also entered a stage of low fertility rates,' Zhu Zhixin, director of the National Bureau of Statistics told a press conference to announce the findings of a nationwide census taken late last year.
The census found that the size of Chinese families had dropped significantly, from an average of 3.96 people to 3.44 people. Altogether there were 348.37 million family households.
'Decline in family size was mainly due to the positive results of population control,' Mr Zhu said.
The biggest change has been the ageing of China's population, he observed. China's population under 14 years now accounts for 22.9 per cent of the total, a drop of 4.8 percentage points from the previous census in 1990.
Pensioners over 65 increased by 1.39 percentage points to nearly seven per cent of the total population. The population of ethnic minorities had increased from 8.04 per cent to 8.41 per cent which Mr Zhu said showed they had benefited from exemptions to the Government's family-planning restrictions.
Another striking change to emerge from the census results was a faster pace of urbanisation.
The proportion of the population designated as urban rose by 9.86 percentage points to reach 36.09 per cent of the total population, leaving 455.94 million living in cities and towns, and 807 million in the countryside.
The average rate of urbanisation in developing countries is 50 per cent.
Education standards also improved with the illiteracy rate down from 15.8 per cent of the total population to just 6.72 per cent.
'A significant change has taken place in the number of people with various education attainments,' said Mr Zhu.
Those with university education rose 154 per cent from 1,422 per 100,000 or close to 1.4 per cent of the population to 36 million or just over three per cent of the total population.
Those with senior secondary education rose 39 per cent and those with just primary school education fell by four percentage points.
'The fast improvement of the people's cultural accomplishments in the 1990s was unprecedented since 1949,' Mr Zhu asserted.
He said last year's census work had to deal with new problems because family members registered in one place were living all across the country. There was also a large floating population, many of whom did not register their children. According to Mr Zhu, the census' margin of error - a measurement of its accuracy - was 1.81 per cent. This represents about 23 million people.
By comparison, he said that of the 58 countries which produced figures on under-reporting in the 1990s, some 31 had a margin of error of under two per cent and this included countries such as the United States and Canada. Mr Zhu said that China's total population would be 1.295 billion if Taiwan's 22 million, Hong Kong's six million and Macau's 440,000 people were included in the total.