China's population has increased to 1.37 billion, including 1.3397 billion on the mainland, said the National Bureau of Statistics when releasing results of the country's sixth national population census at the end of April. The country also has the world's largest elderly population of 178 million people aged 60 and older, and the largest migrant population of 261 million people moving from the countryside to cities.
The huge population is a basic national condition of China. As a result, China's per-capita economic indicators are much lower than the world average, despite the fact that its GDP ranked second worldwide in aggregate terms in 2010. The population pressure also causes many problems in China that don't occur in other countries. Rapid urbanization is positive in most cases. But, when millions of rural people flock to Chinese cities and manage to settle down there, how to meet their demands in settling remains a difficult task over a fairly long period.
On the other hand, census data show the growth of the Chinese population has slowed remarkably. For instance, the natural increase, an increase in the native-born population, stemming from either a higher birth rate, a lower death rate, or a combination of the two, fell from 11.9 per thousand in 1980 to 4.7 per thousand in 2010. If the trend remains, a negative growth is imminent.
Given this dramatic change, there has been growing calls to consider adjustments to the family-planning policy, which the government has adopted for more than 30 years, at an appropriate time, citing concerns for a worsening gender imbalance and rapid aging process. Some economists have also warned China might face labor shortages if the current family-planning policy remains, which would drive up wages, weaken the competitiveness of China's exports and hinder economic development.
China adopted the family-planning policy in the 1970s to rein in its surging population by encouraging late marriages and late childbearing and limiting most urban couples to one child and most rural couples to two children. The policy is estimated to have reduced 400 million births, contributing greatly to healthy national and global development. Now, in response to new challenges, China may consider taking all possible measures to keep its population size and age structure at a reasonable level for the purpose of maintaining the dynamics of its society and economy.