A demographic expert from one of China’s leading universities claims that the official figures for the country’s total population and average birth rate are considerably overstated.
According to the “13th Five Year Plan National Family Planning Development Plan” (三十五全国计划生育事业发展规划) released by China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission in February, the country’s population is on track to reach roughly 1.420 billion by 2020, with the total fertility rate set to rise to 1.8 and the gender ratio at birth expected to fall to 112.
Li Jianxin, a demographics researcher from the social sciences faculty of Peking University, begs to differ, however, considering the official forecasts to be significantly overblown.
Speaking at the “Population Circumstance and Economic Development Forum” held by Peking University’s economics faculty on 22 May, Li said that the actual total fertility rate is now well below the current estimate of 1.7.
According to Li China’s demographic structure suffers from severe imbalances with respect to both age and gender distribution which are set to worsen by the end of the decade, creating major challenges for the country’s economic and social development.
If Li’s demographic estimates prove correct, China could be set for an economic slowdown much sooner than expected,
Zhou Tianyong, a professor from the CCP’s Central Party School and specialist on impact of demographic shifts on the economy, notes that population shifts have played a key role in the abrupt easing of economic growth since 2003.
According to Zhou China’s family planning policy has led to an excessively rapid slide in the population growth rate and an immense “population hole” which is affecting labour supply, consumption and investment.
His research shows that the size of the economically active population of 20 to 40 year olds have a major impact on the economy via entrepreneurial activities, home buying, marriage and reproduction, and that a growth in this demographic cohort is necessary broader economic growth.
Because the biggest reproductive wave took place during the 1960’s the entry into the ranks of the elderly of this demographic cohort will have a massive impact on the Chinese economy.
“This demographic group were the cohort with the biggest growth since the establishment of the PRC,” said Li. “From 1962 until 1973 the annual net population increase was 20 million. As this cohort enter retirement age, it could put pressure on those born in the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s due to irrational demographic structure.
“This means that we may have pushed the country to its peak – but once we begin to retire and are no longer healthy, the impact could be immense.
“For this reason healthy ageing is a major concern.”
Zhou also contends China suffers from lagging urbanisation which has excluded 100 million people from urban economic life, and is acting as a major drag on the economy.
He advocates the incorporation of urban and rural land markets to create a nation-wide unified land market that will increase rural incomes and consumption.
Based on a sample of 1% of the population, the National Bureau of Statistics claimed in 2015 China’s total fertility rate was 1.05, triggering widespread debate amongst demographers, some of whom claim that due to missed reporting the actual figure was actually 1.4.