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China's Census Data Show Country's Birthrate Is Dropping

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The results of China's census are in. Can we just pause for a moment to think about the amazing task of counting around 1.4 billion people? This census is the first in a decade, and it shows the population grew more slowly than it has in around 40 years.

NPR's Emily Feng tells us why that matters.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: For weeks leading up to today's much-delayed announcement, there was widespread speculation the total population might drop for the first time in about 60 years. The Financial Times put out a report in April claiming just that, prompting China's statistics bureau to issue a curt statement saying China's population had risen and it would release the data later. So today there was a lot of anticipation about this normally routine survey.

Here's Ning Jizhe who needs China's statistics bureau.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NING JIZHE: (Speaking non-English language).

FENG: He says, "The total population of mainland China is 1.41 billion people, only 72 million more than the decade before." That's the slowest growth since China implemented its one-child policy, restrictions, now repealed, that limited every family to having just one child starting in the late 1970s. The one-child policy is now the two-child policy, as in, most families can have up to two children. But few families are. That's because child care costs are rising. And changing social mores are lowering early marriage rates, boosting divorce and pushing back when people want children. Fewer people, especially of working age, is a problem for economic growth. China's 16-above population was the fastest-growing demographic group in the last decade.

Here's Ning again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NING: (Speaking non-English language).

FENG: "The level of aging within our societies continues to deepen," Ning says, which means China continues to face the pressure of having to maintain population sustainability. And more aging means less money going into the state pension to support more elderly people and fewer workers to power China's labor-dependent economy.

Emily Feng, NPR News, Yan'an, China.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAMPIQUE'S "EARTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.