Photo from China Expat
Figures released by the National Population and Family Planning Commission have estimated China’s population will reach 1.39 billion by the end of 2015, with those aged 60 or over topping 200 million people. Over the next five years, China’s urban population will also surpass its rural counterpart, with city dwellers expected to exceed 700 million.
Li Bin, the Commission’s director, attributed the rise to a ‘population momentum’, meaning,
the tendency of a highly fertile population that has been rapidly increasing in size to continue to do so for decades after the onset of even a substantial decline in fertility.
Li predicted that by 2015, people above the age of 60 will account for 19.24% of the Chinese population. She said China is due to experience its first boom in its aging population, with an average of eight million people turning 60 each year, 3.2 million more than the figures from 2006-2010.
Meanwhile, Chinese leaders are keen to continue benefiting from the younger demographic that provides a low-cost labour supply. China’s booming economy has brought millions of young migrant workers to industrial hub coastal cities for better paying factory jobs over the last thirty years.
However, this has created a sharp urban-rural divide, with many inland villages and towns now being populated largely by grandparents and young children, while more able-bodied individuals head to the cities for employment. Once in these urban areas, migrant workers are also beset by the restrictive hukou (household registration) system that deprives them of same rights to basic services, such as healthcare and education, enjoyed by their urban counterparts.
The government is now trying to reduce this strain by boosting industry in inland provinces and creating jobs closer to workers’ homes. At the National People’s Congress in March, Premier Wen Jiabao pledged to to bridge the urban-rural gap by increasing spending on rural programmes by 12.8%.
To manage population growth, the one-child policy was instituted in the late 1970s. It has helped China’s total population increase less than 40 percent between 1978 and 2008. In the thirty years prior, China’s population almost doubled.