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Slow population growth rate could lead to a relaxation of China's one-child policy, experts say.
China’s latest census shows that the country’s more than 1.34 billion people are rapidly aging and rapidly urbanizing,
Ma Jiantang, the head of China’s National Bureau of Statistics, said the change was a reflection of improved living standards and health conditions that have come with China’s rapid economic growth.
However, the census shows that half the population lives in cities and towns, compared with about 36 percent in 2000, pointing to a daunting task for policymakers as the labor market shrinks and the nation grows older, Reuters writes.
More than 180 million people who have moved from the countryside to the cities in just 10 years, most drawn by the promise of factory work in cities such as Beijing and Chongqing, as China transforms from a mainly agrarian society into an industrial powerhouse.
"The data from this census show that our country faces some tensions and challenges regarding population, the economy and social development," Ma told a news conference in Beijing.
He said that the number of people in Chinaunder 14 years old dropped more than six percentage points in 2010, compared with the last census in 2000, VOA reported. At the same time, he said, the number of people aged 60 or older increased nearly three percentage points.
While China remains the world's most populated country, Ma said the population growth rate had nearly halved from the 2000 census, to less than 1 percent last year. Some experts had expected China's population to reach 1.4 billion, according to Reuters.
Ma credited the implementation of China’s national family planning policy that since 1980 has limited most urban couples to one child. Rural families are usually allowed two.
The figures could encourage the government to relax such restrictions Du Peng, a professor at the Population and Development Studies Center at Renmin University in Beijing, told Reuters.
"The total population shows the general trend toward slowed population growth and as well an older population, and in the next five years or longer that will be an important basis for population policy," said Du. "The aging of the population appears to be faster than was expected."
Ma said the policy has given China what he called a "triple low model" of population growth — low birth rate, low death rate and low net population increase. He said this differed from other developing countries, many of which had higher birth rates.
He noted that it took many developed countries as long as 100 years to reach the so-called triple low point, while China did so in just a few decades.