According to the Financial Times yesterday the Chinese government is set to report the country’s first population decline in decades. The latest census in China was completed at the end of last year, the results have yet to be made public, however it reported that the total population of the country will be less than 1.4bn. The reason for the delay in the information is said to be that multiple government departments need to reach a consensus on the data and its implications. The census result was due to be released at the beginning of this month.
The birth rates in China have continued to weaken even after the relaxation of the one-child policy after more than three decades in 2015. According to China’s central bank the real picture could be even worse. They estimated that the total fertility rate for a woman was likely to be less than 1.5 children, this compares to the official estimate of 1.8.
In 2020, UN demographers estimate China’s working-age population was little higher than it was at the turn of the century and constituted a smaller part of its adult population, approximately 83%. As the numbers of dependent retirees had risen to some 17% of the population, China had slipped from boasting nine workers for every retiree in 1978 to just over five in 2020, still a better ratio than the United States and healthier than most western economies.
Of course, the future available labour power is not the whole story. Technological advances and productivity increases will allow a more efficient use of China’s available human resources. Last year alone China spent USD378bn on research and development, up over 10% from 2019, accounting 2.4% of China’s gross domestic product. According to a report from the Federation of American Scientists, US government R&D spend was around USD134bn last year.