China’s official demographic data in 2019 has seriously overestimated the country’s actual birth rate and population size, a grave mistake that will lead to disastrous policymaking if leaders blindly take these numbers as fact． My estimates show that China’s actual population size should be 1.279 billion at the end of 2019, or 121 million fewer than the officially stated 1.4 billion . The actual number of births in China last year should be about 10 million instead of 14.65 million, as reported by the National Bureau of Statistics. It doesn’t require rocket science to see the absurdity of China’s official demographic data. For instance, the statistics bureau said China had 15.23 million births in 2018, but the Health Statistics Yearbook compiled by China’s health care authority, which cover new births in all hospitals, showed that there were only 13.62 million. The hospital delivery rate is 99.9 per cent in China, which may account for some of the discrepancy of 1.61 million births. But this still doesn’t account for the bulk of the 1.61 million “births”. In fact, the number of births released in the Health Statistics Yearbook is overestimated. For example, the yearbook announced that there were 14.54 million births in 2015, but the micro-census showed that only 11 million people were actually born. The difference is because, firstly, the number of births is often inflated so that individuals and hospitals can claim more medical subsidies. Secondly, as more than 20 social benefits are tied to one’s place of birth, under the hukou household registration system, some parents buy additional birth certificates to provide a “dual citizenship” to their newborn. According to a 2016 report by the Democracy and Legal System Times, 4,000 blank birth certificates at a hospital in Mengcheng county, Anhui province, were stolen and sold. On April 30 last year, the official website of the Commission for Discipline Inspection of Chenzhou city, Hunan province, disclosed that the administrators of two township hospitals sold hundreds of blank birth certificates. The wrong demographic data has not only delayed the adjustment of population policies, but also misled other policies One root problem of China’s population overstatement is the population control policy. The more “excessive” China’s population size looks, the more necessary this policy is. As such, the statistics bureau has been constantly inflating China’s population data in the past three decades. For example, census data showed that the fertility rates in 2000 and 2010 were only 1.22 and 1.18 , but the statistics bureau revised them to 1.64 and 1.5 (based on the officially announced number of babies born). Since the first-order fertility rate accounts for 71 per cent of the total fertility rate in 2000, if the total rate was 1.64, the first-order rate should be as high as 1.16 births per woman, which means there was no infertility, no DINK (double income, no kids) couples, or that many women had twins. This shows how ridiculous the official demographic data is. China's ethnic minorities do not implement the one-child policy, so there was no need to hide births. The fertility rate of the 34 non-Muslim minorities was 1.64 in 2000 and 1.41 in 2010. The level of social development of the Han Chinese is higher than that of minorities, which means that if China implemented the same fertility policy as minorities, the fertility rates in 2000 and 2010 would only be 1.48 and 1.30; under the one-child policy, how could the rates be 1.64 and 1.5? The 2000 census showed that only 14.08 million were born in 2000, but the statistics bureau revised it to 17.71 million. However, there were only 14.26 million secondary students in 2014, and 13.57 million people aged 15 in the 2015 micro-census. The statistics bureau boasts that the two-child policy has boosted fertility, as the number of births in 2017 increased by 680,000 compared to 2015, of which 76 per cent were in Shandong province. The number of births in Shandong increased from 1.23 million in 2015 to 1.75 million in 2017, which is unbelievable because sales of infant-related products and the number of patients with pregnancy complications have not increased significantly. Follow permissive West? China should rely on tradition of a strong family The fertility rate decreases with the decline in infant mortality, the rise in contraception and divorce rates, the delay in marriage age, and the decrease in people’s willingness to raise children. The infant mortality rate in China in 2019 is equivalent to that of Taiwan and South Korea in 2003, and women's age at first marriage in China in 2019 is equivalent to that of Taiwan and South Korea in 2004. China's divorce rate and contraceptive prevalence are higher than in Taiwan and South Korea, while China’s willingness to raise children is lower than in Taiwan and South Korea. Under a pro-fertility policy, the fertility rates for 2003, 2004, and 2018 were 1.24, 1.18 and 1.06 in Taiwan, and 1.15, 1.18 and 0.98 in South Korea. Under the two-child policy, the fertility rate in China should be around 1 in 2019 with about 10 million births, the lowest since 1790. The wrong demographic data has not only delayed the adjustment of population policies, but also misled other policies. The statistics bureau needs to keep demographic data consistent with the past, or officials will be held accountable. The quality of the 2020 census may well be worrying. Yi Fuxian is a senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of Big Country with an Empty Nest Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.