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Population gets older as growth slows

By Wang Xiaoyu | China Daily | Updated: 2021-05-11 22:31
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Retired workers surfing on an e-commerce website in a residential community center in Shenyang, the capital city of Northeast China's Liaoning province. Dong Fang / For China Daily

Amid the slow growth of its total population to 1.44 billion, China has seen a sharp rise in older adults and an uptick in young people over the past decade, solidifying the country's rapidly aging pattern, the latest national census data shows.

The population on the Chinese mainland increased by an average of 0.53 percent annually during the past 10 years to 1.41 billion, compared with an annual growth rate of 0.57 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the seventh national census released on Tuesday by the National Bureau of Statistics.

"The growth of the total population has slowed down but remains at a steady pace," Ning Jizhe, head of the bureau, said at a news conference organized by the State Council Information Office.

"Based on trends in recent years, China's population will grow at an increasingly slow rate in the future while remaining above 1.4 billion."

The increasing elderly population has become a defining feature of the past decade. People age 60 or above account for 18.7 percent of the total population, up about 5.4 percentage points from the count a decade ago.

Ning said an aging society will set the tone for China's demographic structure for a long time, presenting challenges as well as opportunities.

"A graying population will pile pressure on provision of labor force and social services, as well as adding to families' elderly care burden. But more elderly people could also stimulate consumption of products and services targeting this age group, and advance the development of some technologies," he said.

Ning added that those between the ages of 60 and 69, who are equipped with knowledge, experience and skills and are generally in good health, make up nearly 56 percent of all older adults.

"The potential of them to continue making contributions to society and playing a constructive role is big," he said in response to a question on the outlook for raising the retirement age and implementing other potential measures aimed at addressing the aging trend.

Li Tongping, a population economist at China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, Hubei province, said the latest number and proportion of elderly are largely within predictions, and the aging trend will continue for a long time.

"It is notable that the ratio of elderly has surpassed that of children and teenagers for the first time in the once-in-a-decade census, underscoring the pressing need to relieve elderly care pressure falling on working-age adults," he said.

What came as a surprise to Li and some other experts is that the share of people age 14 or younger has grown by 1.35 percentage points to 17.95 percent, although birthrates have fallen in recent years, according to the census data.

The slight increase over the past decade is likely driven by the gradual relaxation of family planning policies, according to Ning, the NBS chief. China decided to allow all couples to have two children in late 2015.

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