China's population grew by 0.53 per cent to reach 1.41178 billion, up from 1.4 billion in 2019, keeping its status as the world's most populous country, but the numbers are expected to decline from early next year, leading to labour shortages and a fall in consumption levels.
According to the seventh national population census released by the Chinese government on Tuesday, China's population in all the 31 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities reached 1.41178 billion.
The figures do not include Hong Kong and Macao.
Significantly, according to the data released by the National Bureau of Statistics, the new census figures reveal that the demographic crisis China faced was expected to deepen as the population above 60 years grew to 264 million, up by 18.7 per cent last year.
"The further ageing of the population imposed continued pressure on the long-term balanced development of the population in the coming period," the NBS statement said.
The proportion of people aged between 15 and 59 was 894 million, down by 6.79 percentage points from that in the 2010 census.
The growth rate of the population was 0.53 per cent annually on average in the 7th census conducted last year in comparison to 0.57 per cent in the 6th census in 2010 and 1.07 per cent in the fifth census held in 2000.
The highest growth of China's population of 2.1 per cent was registered in the census survey held in 1982 after which the population continued to decline at a steady pace, which officials blamed on the decades-old one-child policy pursued by the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) to check the population growth and keep it under a manageable level.
"Data shows that China's population has continued to maintain slow growth in the past decade," said Ning Jizhe, head of the NBS. The birth rates continued to fall as Chinese mothers gave birth to 12 million babies last year, down from 14.65 million in 2019, marking a 22 per cent decline year on year.
The gender ratio of China's population also declined to 105.07 males to 100 females compared to 105.2 in 2010.
Last month, the NBS denied the Financial Times story that the population of the world's second-largest economy fell last year, which would have been the first decline since 1961.
Chinese demographers said that the 7th national population census results revealing that China's population is not just declining but also its demographic structure is deteriorating with a growing aging population, will serve as an important reference for China's population and economic policy adjustment as well as plans to put off retirement, which may come in the next year or two, a report in the state-run Global Times, a CPC-run newspaper, said on Tuesday.
They said that although China reported population growth in 2020, the general declining trend was inevitable. China's population is likely to start to decline as early as 2022, it said.
In view of the declining population, China stopped the one-child policy in 2016 and allowed two children, but it has had very limited impact to halt the declining trend as few people came forward to have a second child.
He Yafu, an independent demographer, said there is no doubt that China will fully lift birth restrictions in the near future to cope with the declining birth rate. The CPC is likely to remove its family planning policy as early as this autumn, he said.
The new census revealed that China's population living in urban areas grew by 63.89 per cent, totalling to 901.99 million, representing 63.89 per cent.
China, the second-largest economy, has conducted a national census every ten years since the 1990s.
A recent report by People's Bank of China, said demographics of China is set to change as its population growth enters negative growth after 2025, which will result in shortage of consumer demand.
China's population is set to peak in just four years' time and the milestone will be marked by a significant downturn in consumer demand, said Cai Fang, a member of the monetary policy committee of PBOC.
"When the total population enters negative growth [after 2025], there will be a shortage of demand. We need to pay attention to the impact of demographics on future consumption," he said.
The PBOC study said China should immediately liberalise its birth policies or face a scenario in which it has a lower share of workers and higher burden of elderly care than the US by 2050.
The four researchers from the PBOC said the country should not interfere with people's ability to have children or it will be too late to reverse the economic impact of a declining population.
"We should not hesitate and wait for the effects of existing birth policies," they said in a working paper published last month.
"The birth liberalisation should happen now when there are some residents who still want to have children but can't. It's useless to liberalise it when no one wants to have children," it said.
China is eyeing a progressive, flexible and differentiated path to raising the retirement age.
According to the Outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and the Long-Range Objectives Through the Year 2035, China will take small steps to raise the retirement age.
It will also implement flexible, tailored policies for different groups, consider all factors, and make overall plans. The NBC released the results of the seventh national population census on Tuesday, a month later than its previously-scheduled release period.