China's consistent family planning policy has helped economic growth over the last three decades but tough hurdles remain in its long-term development, reported China Daily on Monday after an international forum on population and sustainable development had closed in Shanghai.
China's policy helped reduce population growth by about 300 million, almost one-fourth of the current 1.3 billion, said Zhang Weiqing, the minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission.
The policy has also helped reduce pressure on various fronts such as social and economic development and the environment.
"Since the 1990s, China's population has maintained a low birth rate, low mortality and low growth rate," said Zhang. That marks a change from its previous “high birth rate, low mortality and high growth rate."
China still has a huge population base, which means the country's population will grow by about 10 million every year over the next two decades to reach a peak of 1.46 billion by the mid 2030s.
That peak will bring great employment and social welfare challenges.
China's working age population (people aged between 15 and 64) will max out at about 940 million in 2020, estimates suggest, making up about 65 percent of the population.
By the middle of the century, nearly one-fourth of China's total population will be 65 years of age or older -- a population structure that will put serious pressure on economy, society and the environment.
Only 4.63 percent of the population aged between 25 and 64 hold a college degree or above, less than one-fourth the proportion in Europe.
According to a 2000 census there were still 85.07 million illiterate and semiliterate people aged above 15. About 120 million people are either disabled or have a chronic illness, creating a significant pool of unemployable people.
Since it first started its opening-up policy in the 1970s, China has reduced its poor population from 250 million to 30 million, says Zhang.
However, the figure has risen again in recent years due to poor living conditions, illness and natural disasters. More urban poverty has also been observed.
In 2003, there were about 23 million city dwellers living on subsistence allowances, constituting 4.5 percent of the total urban population.
In the 2002 census, 144 million “floating” people were counted. Nearly 80 percent of them had migrated from the countryside to the cities. These migrants contributed to cities’ economic and social development but brought some burdens as well.
Take Shanghai, for example. The city has 1.27 percent of the country's population but takes up only 0.06 percent of China's land mass. According to a recent study, Shanghai can support a maximum population of 28 million. By 2020, the metropolis is expected to be home to 24 million.
"To solve those problems, we must insist on our current population policy," said Zhang.
(China Daily October 25, 2004)