If China's future could be defined by three numbers, those figures would be 0.57, 221 million and 118. They each stand for one aspect of the country's shifting demographic landscape - ageing, migration and gender imbalance, factors that will undoubtedly affect the development of the world's second-biggest economy. The figures were compiled as part of the country's 2010 decadal census report and since its release earlier this year economists, stock market analysts and insurance experts have been pondering how they will influence spending in the next few decades. The first of the three numbers is the annual growth rate of the mainland's population. Overall, China has 1.37 billion citizens, but that has only expanded by 74 million in the past decade, or at less than half the annualised rate of the previous census period. It is an alarming decline that spells out just how quickly the country is ageing prematurely. The UN projects that by 2050, there will be more than three people aged over 60 for every child in China. So far, though, only a quarter of the workforce has signed up for old-age insurance, according to the Labour Ministry. This disparity points to an opportunity for the insurance industry, says David Alexander, Swiss Re's head of Asia business development. 'The problem of an ageing population is hitting China harder and faster than expected, but the public is not aware of that,' he says. 'But it also equates to a massive, new opportunity for the insurance industry to provide affordable insurance products to the mainland population.' Alexander says the emergence of China's 'sandwich generation' - where a single child has to support two parents and four grandparents - presents a need for individuals and families to overhaul their financial planning. The need is particularly clear in terms of the 'mortality protection gap', the proportion of protection needed, but not yet covered by either insurance or savings. Swiss Re estimates there was a US$18.7 trillion mortality protection gap in China last year, up from US$3.7 trillion a decade earlier. That means that in China, for every US$100 needed for protection, there is only US$12 in savings or insurance in place, leaving a massive US$88 unfunded. The second of the three numbers is the country's migrant population, which has expanded by more than 80 per cent from a decade ago. At the time of last year's census, 221 million people had moved outside the city in which their household was registered, and about half of all people on the mainland were living in an urban area. These migration patterns could have implications for the insurance industry in that they might suggest changes in people's perception of what they need as a safety net, Alexander says. The move from rural to urban areas implies less social cohesion and a more loosely structured community, where people no longer remain physically close to their families. Studies show that in more developed markets, people tend to rely less on family and more on insurance and personal assets as bedrocks for their financial wellbeing. Researchers at Swiss Re found that only one-third of the people it surveyed in Indonesia and Vietnam cited insurance as one of the top factors in financial security, compared with more than 80 per cent of respondents in South Korea and Taiwan. China's shift to a more urban population also coincides with expansion of the central government's welfare and insurance schemes. Sun Life Financial Asia president Dikran Ohannessian says the industry is watching closely the development of the mainland's welfare system because consumers will not want to pay twice for benefits they can get from the government. Sun Life's approach has been to target the more affluent population and add value to government-funded retirement benefits to guarantee a better standard of living, and cover genuine financial needs like better health care. Ohannessian says it is important to look at the effects of the mainland's population policy, leading to the third of the three key numbers. In 1970, eight years before the introduction of the one-child policy, China's fertility rate was four births per mother. By 2000 it was down to 1.82 and last year it was less than 1.5. At the same time, the sex ratio at birth has skewed further and further towards more boys. In 2010, for every 100 baby girls born, 118 boys came into the world, a gender ratio that the National Bureau of Statistics described as 'beyond the normal range'. It all means that Chinese men will find it increasingly difficult to marry and start a family in the future. It also points to a possible decline in supply of a youthful workforce. Demographers project that the number of people aged between 19 and 22 could shrink to 58 million in 2019 from a peak of 100 million in 2009. It is uncertain whether the central government will alter its family planning policy to encourage couples to have more than one child in order to secure a robust labour force and eradicate the sex ratio imbalance. The authorities in Guangdong, one of the mainland's richest provinces, announced last month that they had no intention of encouraging people to have more children. The provinces's population had already swelled by a fifth over a decade to reach 104 million residents last year, according to the census report. Ohannessian says any government will need to think about the long-term tax implications of having a prolonged period of low birth rates because children are needed to replenish the ranks of taxpayers in the long run. 'Any change in population policy will have a big impact on the way people live and plan their finances,' he said. 'And it will affect how the insurance industry works. Insurance is always a business about people.'