It speaks for how much the thinking on demography has changed that when China published its once-in-a-decade census last week indicating its population had its slowest decade of growth, there was more concern expressed around the world than celebration. China's numbers were 1.412 billion last year - up from 1.4 billion at the end of 2019, and 5.38 per cent more than the 1.34 billion counted in the 2010 census. Until now, the population had grown in double digits in every decade since the exercise began in 1950, a time when large and growing populations were seen as a bane, leading countries like China, India and Indonesia to promote birth control, or population planning as it was called.
A closer examination of data suggests that the census was not without some heartening news. While the number of people in the productive group aged between 15 and 59 dropped nearly 7 per cent, and those aged 60 and above were up more than 5 per cent, the census reported an unexpected increase in the proportion of children: 17.95 per cent of the population was 14 or younger last year, compared with 16.6 per cent in 2010. Given that surging living costs in cities, high mortgage commitments and a focus on careers combined with individual interests and pursuits were seen as factors checking the desire of couples to have babies, this could still offer hints into the optimism felt by Chinese citizens.