China is ageing | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 29.04.2011
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China is ageing

According to the new Chinese census, the population of the People's Republic of China is aging rapidly. The results of the census are bound to spark a debate over China's one-child-policy.

Elderly Chinese people look as they visit the Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China

The number of people over 60 has risen by over 13 percent within the past decade

Results of the world's largest census have shown that there has been a sharp increase of people under 14 years of age within the past decade. And the number of people over 60 has risen by over 13 percent. That means China is ageing.

All in all the population grew more slowly than ten years ago – less than one percent per year. The population has grown to 1.34 billion since the year 2000.

Fewer young people of working age

Children dance during their daily afternoon exercise at a kindergarten in Beijing, China

The number of young people has dropped because of China's strict one-child policy

Ma Jiantang of the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics says that the one-child policy has allowed China to excel economically. "The implementation of family planning has been able to slow down the rapid growth of the population and has thus minimized pressure on resources and paved the way for a stable and relatively rapid economic growth," says Ma.

Ma also admitted that current demographic trends will pose a challenge to China. Critics have been wondering how long China will be able to sustain its economic growth, especially now with proof of excessive ageing of the economically active population. Ageing society poses new societal challenges, as there will be fewer and fewer young people of working age to support a growing base of the elderly. China's social framework is not prepared for such changes.

Ren Qiang, an expert on population and demographics at Peking University, is aware of these problems and has thus been fighting for a relaxation of family planning policies.

A Chinese investor walks past the stock price monitor at a private security company

With its economy boom the country actually needs more man power in the future

"In the next two decades, China's population will drop drastically," opines Ren, "the advancing age of the population will become a big problem. If birth rates are too low, we will have problems in the future. That's why experts hope the government will rescind current family planning policies. But the authorities are still of the opinion that we need these policies."

More boys than girls

President Hu Jintao has recently reiterated that China will continue to follow a trend of lower birth rates. Generally, current policies allow urban couples one child, whereas families in rural areas are allowed two children.

The strict policies have led to a preference of boys in most families, which has thrown the ratio of boys to girls out of balance. According to the census, the current ratio of newborns is 100 girls to 118 boys. By comparison, the usual ratio in many countries is 100 to 105.

Rapid urbanization

Building and shopping malls in Shanghai

50 percent of the Chinese population lives in cities

The census has also shown that the rural population is in decline while urbanization processes have quickened. While 50 percent of the Chinese population now lives in cities, it was only around 30 percent a decade ago. The number of migrant laborers has also increased dramatically. Within the last ten years, nearly 220 million people have flocked to the cities in search of work – ten years ago it was half that number.

China's census is taken every ten years. In November there were millions of enumerators working to collect data. Within ten days, they gathered information from 1.3 billion Chinese people.

Author: Ruth Kirchner (sb)
Editor: Shamil Shams

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