China: Population

Crowded streets of Mongkok at night in Hong Kong
@ Didier Marti / Getty Images

With a population estimated at 1.4 billion people as of 2017, China clearly ranks as the world's most populous country. With the world's population approximately 7.6 billion, China represents 20% of the people on Earth. Policies the government has implemented over the years may well result in China losing that top ranking in the near future. 

Effect of the New Two-Child Policy

Over the last few decades, China's population growth had been slowed by its one-child policy, in effect since 1979. The government introduced the policy as part of a wider program of economic reform. But because of the imbalance between the aging population and number of young people, China changed its policy effective for 2016 to allow two children to be born per family. The change had an immediate effect, and the number of babies born that year was up 7.9%, or an increase of 1.31 million babies. The total number of infants born was 17.86 million, which was a little lower than projections when the two-child policy was enacted but still represented an increase. In fact, it was the highest number since 2000. About 45% were born to families who already had one child, though not all one-child families will have a second child, some because of economic reasons, as reported by the Guardian from the government's family planning commission report. The family planning commission expects between 17 to 20 million babies to be born each year for the following five years.

Long-Term Effects of the One-Child Policy

As recently as 1950, China's population was a mere 563 million. The population grew dramatically through the following decades to 1 billion in the early 1980s. From 1960 to 1965, the number of children per woman was about six, and then it crashed after the one-child policy was enacted. The aftereffects mean that the population overall is aging rapidly, causing issues for its dependency ratio, or the number of workers projected to be supporting the amount of elderly in the population, which was 14% in 2015 but is expected to grow to 44% in 2050. This will put a strain on social services in the country and may mean that it invests less, including in its own economy.

Projections Based on Fertility Rate

China's 2017 fertility rate is estimated to be 1.6, which means that, on average, each woman gives birth to 1.6 children throughout her life. The necessary total fertility rate for a stable population is 2.1; nonetheless, China's population is expected to remain stable until 2030, even though there will be 5 million fewer women of childbearing age. After 2030, China's population is expected to decline slowly.

India Will Become the Most Populous

By 2024, China's population is expected to reach 1.44 billion, as is India's. After that, India is expected to surpass China as the world's most populous country, as India is growing more quickly than China. As of 2017, India has an estimated total fertility rate of 2.43, which is above replacement value.

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Rosenberg, Matt. "China: Population." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Rosenberg, Matt. (2020, August 27). China: Population. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Matt. "China: Population." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2023).