The overall trends of the demographic changes in China are predictable, nonetheless the findings of the seventh national census released on Tuesday have still caught people's attention.
Although there have been growing concerns about the country's birthrate, the census shows that by the end of last year, China's population had increased to 1.41 billion, up 5.38 percent from 10 years ago, and over the past 10 years the population has increased at an average annual rate of 0.53 percent. Although that was 0.04 percentage points lower than the rate in the previous decade, it indicates that China's population has continued to grow slowly over the last 10 years.
Meanwhile, the downsizing of families, the mobility of the population and the rising urbanization rate are all in line with the trends of other countries at a similar development stage when their per capita gross domestic product reached about $10,000, and these are signs of the vitality of the economy and society.
Although the data reinforce that the country's population is aging and the working age population is declining — with the proportion of people aged above 60 having increased 5.44 percentage points over the past 10 years to account for 18.7 percent of the population, and the proportion of the 15-59 age group in the total population falling 6.79 percentage points to 63.35 percent — other data offer some encouragement for policymakers.
The proportion of the national population aged between 0 and 14 has increased by 1.35 percentage points over the past 10 years to reach 17.95 percent, and 63.89 percent of the population lived in urban areas at the end of last year, up 14.21 percentage points from 10 years ago, with 493 million people not living in the place where their hukou, or household registration, is registered, and, most notably, the number of people per 100,000 receiving college education and above increased from 8,930 in 2010 to 15,467 last year.
The increase in the number of urban residents and college graduates reflects the country's efforts to improve the quality of its workforce and raise overall productivity. These figures along with the increase in the 0-14 age group's share in the national population, which, though not sizable, demonstrates the efficacy of the reformed family planning policies, indicate that if these factors can continue their current growth momentum, they can effectively hedge against the aging of the population.
That said, policymakers should attach more significance to measures to foster a skilled workforce and boost childbirth, and promote innovation and industries related to the elderly as new growth drivers and job creators.
The pro-innovation and pro-birth endeavors of the country are comparable to a race with the aging of its population, with worries that the number of working-age people will fall too fast for the country to realize its goal of becoming a prosperous country. These policies need to be better targeted and more effective so that they can reflect the urgency and nature of the challenge they are intended to overcome.