Monday, November 1, 2010

China's census will reveal important information about changing demographics

China began tallying its population on Monday for the first time since 2000, an arduous task likely to be made even tougher by the need to count scores of millions of migrant workers in the nation’s big cities.

The government said it had sent more than six million census-takers out to survey 400 million households, including the shantytowns and dormitories that often house rural men who have flooded into the cities to work in factories and on construction projects.

In the five censuses since the Communist government took power in 1949, migrants were listed as living where their homes were registered instead of where they actually lived. By disregarding the hukou, as the registration regime is called, the government hopes to get its first accurate count of city dwellers.

The last major census a decade ago counted 1.265 billion mainland Chinese citizens, of which 807 million were placed in rural areas. The latest United Nations estimate two years ago projected that the population would reach 1.396 billion this year, and the organization’s 2003 estimate projected that by this year the population would be split about equally between cities and rural areas.

But analyses vary widely, and the sheer volume of migrants — 160 million is the middle ground of estimates — are a demographic wild card that could reshape perceptions of China’s population. The 2010 census is expected not only to better document the rural-to-urban migration, but to shed new light on a number of impending demographic shifts, including a rapid fall in the number of young people, a similarly sharp growth in the number of elderly and a decline in the size of the workforce.

Those and other trends may lessen some of the social and economic pressures on Chinese society, like the furious scramble to create enough jobs for new workers. But they are also likely to create others, including rising costs for social services like pensions and changes in the structure of the economy.

Census officials said in a briefing last week that they were taking extra steps to encourage cooperation from some classes of citizens who might hide from census-takers, including undocumented migrant laborers and families that have quietly violated a 30-year-old policy limiting many households to one child.

Read more in the International Herald Tribune

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