A new version of this story has been published. Click here for the latest data about China's population. What is China’s population? China’s overall population continued to grow in 2019, rising to 1.4 billion at the end of the year from 1.39 billion a year earlier. Beijing did not provide annual population and birth figures for 2020 when it released a series of economic indicators in January. Those figures, based on the once-in-a-decade population census that concluded at the end of 2019, with preliminary data expected to be published in April, the National Bureau of Statistics said. But over the course of January, some Chinese provinces and cities disclosed their own birth data through government and state media reports, and in some cases, birth rates declined more than 30 per cent in 2020 from a year earlier. How is China’s population measured? China conducted its seventh national population census in November and December 2020, where a huge range of personal and household information, including the age, education, occupation, marital and migration status of people living in the world’s most populous nation was gathered. Because of the vast number of people surveyed, it will in theory provide the most accurate information on changes to China’s population and be a key resource for future planning. China will also conduct a sample survey of 1 per cent of the population – also known as a “micro population census” – between the 2020 census and the 2030 census to monitor population changes, according to official regulations. In other years, population figures are updated based on annual births and deaths data. What are the problems facing China’s population? In 2019, the number of Chinese aged 60 or older reached 253 million, and that demographic will hit 300 million during the 14th Five-Year Plan period between 2021-25, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said in a report in November. China’s working-age population is expected to decline rapidly over the same period having peaked in 2011, adding pressure to its health and social welfare system. A report by the World Social Security Centre at the government-supported Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in April 2019 said that China’s main state pension fund will run out of money by 2035 due to the rise in the number of retirees and the decline in the available work force contributing to the fund. What is China’s 2020 census, and why is it important? The urban worker pension fund, the backbone of the country’s state pension system, held a reserve of 4.8 trillion yuan (US$714 billion) at the end of 2018. It is predicted to peak at 7 trillion yuan in 2027, then drop steadily to zero by 2035, a the World Social Security Centre report in April said. And the gap between contributions and outlays could rise to as high as 11 trillion yuan (US$1.64 trillion) by 2050, with each retired citizen supported by only one worker, down from the current level of two, the government think tank calculated. The number of mainland Chinese citizens older than 60, the normal retirement age at which men can claim pension benefits, reached 249 million at the end of 2018, some 18 per cent of the total population and close to three quarters of the population of the United States. Is China’s birth rate declining? Chinese mothers gave birth to 14.65 million babies in 2019, down from 15.23 million in 2018, making it the lowest since 1961. The weak birth data for 2019 was within the expectations of many veteran demographers who for years have called for the Chinese government to abandon its one-child birth policy – which ended in 2016 – because of the damage it would do to future economic growth and the nation’s ability to support its ageing population, as fewer births mean fewer wage earners and consumers in the future. Beijing had expected a surge in births after it abolished its one-child policy for a two-child policy in 2016, but after decades of economic boom and tight birth controls, as well as the high cost of raising a child in Chinese cities, the population has proven more reluctant to take advantage of the change than the government had anticipated. Beijing vows to be ‘inclusive’, will stop punishing people for having too many babies Births in 2016 rose to 17.86 million from 16.55 million in 2015 following the introduction of the two-child policy, but the acceleration was short-lived as births fell to 17.23 million in 2017 despite the government offering incentives for couples to have a second child. The world’s most populous country has yet to confirm its official birth rate figure for the coronavirus-hit 2020, although expectations are for a further decline. China’s National Bureau of Statistics says it will publish some preliminary data from the once-in-a-decade population census conducted at the end of last year in April, including population and birth figures for 2020. But concerns over the outlook for China’s population have grown after the number of newborns recorded in the country’s household registration system declined 15 per cent in 2020. A total 10.035 million of newborns were recorded in the household registration system, known as hukou in China, down from 11.79 million in 2019, according to figures released by the Ministry of Public Security in February. The figure is not China’s official birth rate for 2020 as the hukou system does not include the entire population, but adds to data released by some Chinese provinces, which showed in some regions that birth rates declined more than 30 per cent in 2020 from a year earlier. What is the outlook for China’s population? Like other countries in Asia, including Japan and South Korea, China is close to reaching a point where death exceed new births, resulting in a fall in the total population. According to an estimate from the China Population and Development Research Centre, a think tank under the central government, China’s population could peak around 2027 – the year when India could overtake China as the most populous country in the world – and fall to around 1.32 billion by 2050. Over the past five years, the number of Chinese women in the prime childbearing ages between 20 and 34 has been falling steadily at an annual rate of 3.4 million. This pace of decline will almost double to 6.2 million in the next five years, according to the centre. Consequently, the country’s annual number of births will fall to around 11 million by 2025, if China manages to keep its fertility rate at 1.5 births per woman, which is considered low. In comparison, Japan’s fertility was 1.369 in 2020. Want to know more? 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