What’s The One Thing Not Growing Fast In China? Its Population.

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China, as we all know, is a rapidly expanding country. Economic growth is chugging along, the military is adding new high-tech hardware and international luxury brands are opening new stores on a near daily basis. But according to the results of the nation’s sixth census, China isn’t growing quite as dramatically in one key respect: its population. Indeed, if the official results are to be believed, the country’s efforts to curb population growth through three decades of stringent family-planning policies have paid off, with the nation’s population growing by only 5.84% from 2000-2010. That means a yearly average population growth of just 0.57%, less than half the 1.07% rate of 1990-2000. Mainland China’s total population is now calculated at 1.3397 billion, significantly less than the 1.4 billion estimate the United Nations had forecast last year. Other key findings from what is still the world’s most populous nation:*A once agrarian nation—remember that Chairman Mao’s communist revolution was a mainly rural one—is now nearly half urban. In fact, 49.68% of all Chinese, or 665.57 million people, currently live in cities. More than 260 million Chinese are part of a so-called “floating population” of migrant workers who flood to the cities for work but technically maintain residency back in the countryside.

*As the number of offspring is limited to one per couple in many cities, the percentage of older Chinese has increased. Today, 13.26% of Chinese are ages 60 or older. In a country that no long boasts a full socialist safety net, the graying population is a big concern. The demographic shift is even more alarming given that many young Chinese no longer have siblings with whom to share the role of caregiver for elderly parents.

*In part because of sex-based abortions, in which female fetuses discovered by illegal ultrasounds are aborted, China’s gender ratio has skewed to 118 baby boys for every 100 baby girls. (The natural rate is, at most, 107 male newborns to 100 female infants.) Traditionally Chinese prefer boys to girls because women tend to move into their husbands’ family homes and therefore aren’t obliged to take care of their elderly parents. But the current dearth of girls will translate into a shortage of future brides for all those beloved boys.

*As China has opened hundreds of new colleges, institutes and universities, the number of Chinese with higher-education degrees has surged. Today, 8.9 out of every 100 Chinese boasts a college diploma. These figures show China’s potential for transitioning beyond a manufacturing economy. But the current high unemployment rate for college graduates also shows the difficulties young Chinese are facing in finding jobs commensurate to their educational status.

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