China’s census could point to a looming demographic slide

How to pay and care for an aging nation

China’s once-a-decade census is expected to show a further fall in the percentage of young people in its fast-aging population as high living costs and an aversion to having children among urban couples push China closer to a demographic crunch. Policymakers are under pressure to come up with family-planning incentives and arrest a falling birth rate, with the world’s most populous country at risk of entering an irreversible population slide if effective measures are not found.

China is expected to release the results of its latest census, conducted in late 2020, in coming days. The proportion of elderly people in the population is believed to have risen, but more significant will be the data on its young. In 2010, the proportion of the population aged 14 or younger plunged to 16.60% from 22.89% in 2000, an effect of a decades-old one-child policy. Citizens aged 60 and older accounted for 13.26%, up from about 10%.

The continuation of those trends will undermine China’s working-age population and weigh on productivity. A shrinking pool of working adults will also test its ability to pay and care for an aging nation.