This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Great Ethnic Wall of China

"Ethnicity is central to China's national identity," reports the Economist in this week's issue. The Han account for 1.2 billion of the country's 1.4 billion people, and it seems clear that they want it to stay that way.
China today is extraordinarily homogenous. It sustains that by remaining almost entirely closed to new entrants except by birth. Unless someone is the child of a Chinese national, no matter how long they live there, how much money they make or tax they pay, it is virtually impossible to become a citizen. Someone who marries a Chinese person can theoretically gain citizenship; in practice few do. As a result, the most populous nation on Earth has only 1,448 naturalised Chinese in total, according to the 2010 census. Even Japan, better known for hostility to immigration, naturalises around 10,000 new citizens each year; in America the figure is some 700,000.
This issue is at work behind the scenes, so to speak, as China copes with its changing age structure. The dramatic drop in China's fertility rate from the 1970s to the present is a key factor in its economic success. The country has used that demographic dividend brilliantly--as have Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and to a less extent, Vietnam. As I note in my book, the evidence suggests that the birth rate decline in China would have continued even without the Draconian one-child policy, and the negative legacy of that policy lingers even though the government has eased the restrictions on births. The NYTimes recently reported that a 2015 mini-census in China found that the Total Fertility Rate in China was down to 1.05 children per woman, well below the official figure of 1.6 children. The response from some has predictably been to suggest that the government needs to be more pronatalist. The government has shown little interest in this approach, nor has the average married couple in China. And, since it is clear that outsiders (i.e., immigrants) are not going to be coming to the rescue anytime soon, we can assume that China will continue its pattern of creating a global web of external income that will allow it to support an increasingly older population without resorting to a higher birth rate among the Han or opening the doors to non-Chinese immigrants.

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