When you think of the booming population of China, it is easy to focus on China’s megacities such as Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou, but according to research by global consultants McKinsey, by the year 2025 it is estimated that China will have 221 cities with over one million inhabitants and an urban population of one billion. In this article we take a look at the current population issues facing China and what the future may hold.
The population of China
With a population standing at over 1.355 billion people, China has the largest population of any country in the world. What’s interesting is that it’s growth rate is around 0.47% – coming in at 159th in the world. Having a large population isn’t a new thing for China – in 1910 almost a quarter of the world’s population lived in China when its census data counted over 400,000,000 million people. It had reached to 500,000,000 mark by the 1950s and by the year 2000 the population had easily doubled with a count of 1.2 billion people.
The challenges of supporting a large population have been a concern for China’s leadership since the 1950s when birth control began to be widely promoted. In 1979 the Chinese government began advocating a one-child limit, trying to keep the population relatively static at around 1.2 billion. Economic rewards and benefits were offered to those families who complied with the one-child policy and there was an extensive education and monitoring program implemented. The policy has been seen to be relatively successful in urban areas but less effective in rural areas. In recent years the policy has been relaxed but it is estimated that the one-child policy has averted at least 200 million births in the years between 1979 and 2009.
The down-side of limiting families to one child is that it will rapidly create an ageing population, with research estimating that by the year 2040 about 25% of China’s population would be aged 65 or older. Another interesting factor in the evolution of China’s population is that a gender imbalance is emerging, with Census data from the year 2000 showing that there were 119 boys born for every 100 girls. The current, relaxed policy allows families to have two children if one parent is an only child, however research suggests that economic factors will prevent many eligible couples from taking up the opportunity to have two children as there would be a significant cost of living impact in having more than one child. Housing shortages in urban areas are also contributing to a reluctance to have more than one child.
There are many reasons why China has emerged as one of the world’s economic powerhouses, but its huge population is one of the main reasons. As the country continues to grapple with the evolution of its population it will be fascinating to see the impacts that this has not only on the people and economy of China but also on the rest of the world as well.