BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) – China said its population increased in 2020, countering concerns that its upcoming census will show a possible decline as the nation ages rapidly.

“China’s population continued to grow in 2020, and the detailed numbers will be released in the seventh census report,” the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement Thursday (April 29), without giving further details.

The once-in-a-decade census report was initially meant to be published some time in April, but there has been no indication from the government on the timing of the release.

The Financial Times reported earlier this week that the population declined last year, citing unidentified sources, though the state-run Global Times rebutted that Thursday, quoting an independent demographer He Yafu saying the population may peak as early as 2022, much earlier than previous predictions.

A declining and aging population would have broad effects across the economy and society, likely slowing the economy’s growth rate and increasing the government’s fiscal burden to pay for services such as pensions and healthcare.

China’s birth rate has been declining steadily since the 1970s alongside rising prosperity and education for women.

The introduction of the “one child policy” went further in curbing births to limit the size of the population and even after Beijing relaxed the policy in 2015, there was little impact in reversing the trend. The birthrate slumped to a record low of 10.48 per 1,000 people in 2019.

The State Council, a top government body, forecast in 2017 that the population would peak “around 2030,” while a 2019 report from a state-backed think tank forecast the population would stop growing in 2029 after reaching 1.42 billion people.

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Whether the “population peaked or not, this census likely sent an alarm on the speed of population aging, and indicates the urgency to change the birth control policy,” said Mr Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management.



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