Aging Population Problem Looms, China Starts 7th Once-A-Decade Census

China kicked off its 7th national census on Sunday, with about 7 million census takers knocking on doors using mobile apps for data collection for the first time.

The accurate population information serves as the keystone for making policies related to social and economic development during the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), according to a national statement.

“Timely ascertaining the basic national conditions of the total population, structure and distribution, as well as information of human resources helps more accurately grasp the demand structure, the urban-rural structure, the regional structure and the industrial structure in the country,” said a statement from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The population survey this time, unlike previous census counts, is empowered with internet-based technologies such as cloud computing and online registration through QR codes. The data will be directly uploaded to the national-level authorities in real time, which can eliminate possible human interference, state-owned media Xinhua said.

In order to minimize disturbance to residents, the census also developed a self-reporting procedure for the first time for the census short form using the self-reporting method. Households can choose between filling in the form on their own or being visited by the census taker.

The census targets are natural persons in the country and Chinese citizens outside China who have not yet settled there, excluding people abroad who were staying in China for a short period of time. The census collects information including the name, ID number, gender, age, marital status, education level, occupation, housing situation, etc.

Regarding the issue of privacy protection and information security, Li Xiaochao, deputy head of the NBS, said the census adopts Internet cloud technology, cloud services and cloud application deployment, and security management is carried out in accordance with national security standards.

“Tight data encryption and desensitization technology is adopted on the mobile and server side, and the data transmission process is encrypted throughout to ensure that citizens’ personal information is not leaked online.”

What’s more, in response to the COVID-19 situation, the census has also formulated emergency plans and adopted different census registration methods for different risk level areas.

As the world’s most populous country, China had carried out six national population censuses in 1953, 1964, 1982, 1990, 2000 and 2010. Population censuses, which are conducted almost every 10 years, are the basic way to keep abreast of the new demographic situation, grasp new population trends and solve new population problems, according to Mu Guangzong, a professor at the Institute of Population Research of Peking University.

Aging Population Problem Looms, China Starts 7th Once-A-Decade Census
(Source: National Bureau of Statistics, Xinhua, CGTN)

The previous census found its population had increased to 1.37 billion. Since the the census in 2010, China’s population development has undergone significant changes such as a weakening of the inertia in the growth of the overall population size, a fluctuating decline in the working-age population and a deepening of the aging process, according to NBS.

The national birth rate last year dropped to 10.48%, the slowest since the founding of China in 1949. And the number of babies born in 2019 dropped by 580,000 to 14.65 million, the lowest level since 1961.

“The current birth rate is still in a rapid decline and is expected to fall further to less than 11 million in 2030 due to the gradual disappearance of the fertility accumulation effect and the continuing decline in the number of women of childbearing age,” wrote Ren Zeping, the chief economist with real estate giant Evergrande Group.

Ren said that direct costs of housing, education and health care, and the burden of old age all discourage reproductive behaviors. The mortgage income ratio, which means the percentage of resident mortgage balance in disposable income, increased from 16.2% to 47.6% from 2004 to 2018, driving the resident debt income ratio from 28.6% to 88.4%.

What’s more, the cost of education has also risen markedly, especially as the supply of public kindergartens is severely inadequate, forcing families to choose private kindergartens that cost more. The proportion of children in China attending public kindergartens fell from 95% to 43% between 1997 and 2018.

While aging becomes a global phenomenon with declining fertility rates and increasing longevity, China’s aging population problem is increasing at an unprecedented rate due to its long history with the One Child Policy, a program implemented nationwide in 1980 to limit most Chinese families to one child each.

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In developed countries, it took France 126 years, the United Kingdom 46 years, Germany 40 years and Japan 24 years to transition from an aging population of over 7% of the population aged 65 and over to a deep aging population with the number rising to 14%.

It took France 28 years, Germany 36 years and Japan 11 years to go from deep aging to super-aging societies, where the proportion of older persons in the population exceeds 20%.

China entered an aging society in 2001, with over 7% of its population aged 65 and over. It is expected that China will enter a deep aging society in 2022, or 21 years later, and a super-aging society 11 years later, around 2033.

Mu said these numbers are only predictions and “all forecasts are not a reflection of the actual situation, but only guesses and estimates, so they cannot be accurate.”

But he still suggests people prepare for old age in advance. Mu said the society should create a quality service and product supply system for the elderly.

“As the degree of population aging continues to deepen, the number of elderly people, empty-nesters, elderly people living alone and the number of elderly people who are incapacitated or mentally handicapped continues to increase, the rigid demand for basic elderly services and long-term care continues to grow,” Mu said. “But the shortage of effective demand with the ability to pay and the severe shortage of caregivers have created an unhealthy market for elderly services.”