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China's 2020 Census Data Expected To Show Declining Fertility Rate


As the U.S. sifts through the results of its 2020 census, China is poised to do the same. China conducted a census last year of its 1.4 billion people. NPR China correspondent John Ruwitch looked into what to expect.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: China's population is the biggest on Earth, and it hasn't shrunk since 1960. That was at the height of the Great Leap Forward, an ill-fated attempt to jumpstart the economy. The result - a famine that killed tens of millions of people. Today, it's not famine that stalks the Chinese population but declining fertility.

YONG CAI: The overall trend is that Chinese people are delaying their marriage, delaying childbearing.

RUWITCH: Yong Cai is a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina. He says the generation of people of childbearing age is also shrinking. The upshot is that China is getting older and its population growth is slowing.

CAI: We already see the constraints on the certain segment of the Chinese economy, like labor-intensive part, like the construction part, and that will continue.

RUWITCH: Wang Feng is an expert in Chinese demographics at the University of California, Irvine. He says the census will shed light on how well-known trends like the falling birth rate have developed over the past decade.

WANG FENG: And that would give people a sense how deep the population aging process is unfolding. And that has tremendous implications for the economy, for government spending, for health care, for technology, a large number of issues.

RUWITCH: By Wang's estimates, China's population is still growing. Others suspect the census may show that it's already shrinking. The census will also shed light on other key indicators, like slowing internal migration and rising life expectancy.

WANG: So a lot of these challenges China faces would no doubt be increased, I mean, enhanced by the continued the demographic shift.

RUWITCH: And Wang adds, from a policy perspective, there's no quick fix.

John Ruwitch, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MANUAL'S "FLOATING WORLD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Ruwitch
John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.