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Thursday, December 8, 2011

China's Fertility Levels May Be Lower Than Previously Reported

Two Chinese demographers have just completed an analysis of the 2010 Census data in China and have concluded that fertility has been lower than either the Chinese government or the United Nations (which tends to rely on government estimates) has been reporting. Zhongwei Zhao (of Australian National University) and Wei Chen (of People's University in China) published their findings in the online journal Demographic Research.
China’s recent fertility levels are likely to have been significantly lower than those claimed by the government, and those estimated by the UN Population Division for the periods 1995-2000, 2000- 2005, and 2005-2010, published in World Population Prospects, the 2010 Revision. Therefore the population projection results reported by either the Chinese government or the UN Population Division may not accurately represent China’s actual demographic situation, and thus might not provide a reliable basis for developing long- term socio-economic plans for the country.
In particular, if the census data are accurate, the young population in China is smaller than previously estimated and this will have the effect of aging the population even more quickly than previously anticipated.
According to our projection the Chinese population will reach 1.36 billion in 2025, approximately 1.34 billion in 2033, and 1.24 billion in 2050. The working-age population will be about 985 million in 2016 and 742 million in 2050. The proportion of people aged 65 and over will be more than 12% in 2020 and reach 27% in 2050. Our projected old-age dependency ratios are also higher than those projected by the UN Population Division.
As the authors note, this smaller working age population and more rapid increase in the fraction of the population that is older will have significant impacts on planning for the future. Furthermore, the UN projections assume that fertility will eventually return to replacement level, but the authors note that throughout East Asia the below-replacement level of fertility seems to have settled in as the social norm. Overall, then, the demography of China seems to be changing more quickly and dramatically than most people thought.

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