China has been the world’s most populous nation for many centuries.
When China took its first post-1949 census in 1953, the population stood at 582 million; by the fifth census in 2000, the population had almost doubled, reaching 1.2 billion. China’s fast-growing population was a major policy matter for its leaders in the mid-twentieth century, so that in the early 1970s, the government implemented a stringent one-child birth-control policy. As a result of that policy, China successfully achieved its goal of a more stable and much-reduced fertility rate; in 1971 women had an average of 5.4 children versus an estimated 1.7 children in 2004.
Nevertheless, the population continues to grow, and people want more children. There is also a serious gender imbalance. Census data obtained in 2000 revealed that 119 boys were born for every 100 girls, and among China’s “floating population” (see Migration below) the ratio was as high as 128:100.
These situations led Beijing in July 2004 to ban selective abortions of female fetuses. Additionally, life expectancy has soared, and China now has an increasingly aging population; it is projected that 11.8 percent of the population in 2020 will be 65 years of age and older. Based on 2006 estimates, China’s age structure is 0–14 years of age—20.8 percent; 15–64 years—71.4 percent, and 65 years and older—7.7 percent. Estimates made in 2006 indicate a birthrate of nearly 13.3 births per 1,000 and a death rate of 6.9 per 1,000. In 2006 life expectancy at birth was estimated at 74.5 years for women and 70.9 for men, or 72.6 years overall.
The infant mortality rate was estimated at 23.1 per 1,000 live births overall (25.9 per 1,000 for females and 20.6 for males).