May 13, 2021 08:31 PM

Charts of the Day: China’s Shrinking Household Size

Household size in China has gradually shrunk over the past five years, the latest census results show, with the average number of members in a family dropping to 2.62 in 2020 from 3.11 in 2016.

The change was due mainly to the increasing mobility of the population, improved housing conditions and more young couples choosing to live independently, Ning Jizhe, head of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), said Tuesday in a statement (link in Chinese).

Another major reason is that the decline in the fertility rate has resulted in fewer newborns, Chen Gong, head of the population research institute at Peking University, wrote in a commentary.

COTD-CENSUS charts-1

The total fertility rate in China was 1.3 in 2020 according to the seventh census results. That means that women of childbearing age give birth to 1.3 children on average.

China’s population would peak at some point in the latter half of the decade as fewer babies are expected to be born and the number of women of childbearing age is declining, Zhai Zhenwu, director of the Center for Population Development Studies at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said in a commentary (link in Chinese).

The working-age population, those aged from 16 to 59, is shrinking, the census results show, while the elderly population is expanding. People aged 60 and above accounted for 18.7% of the total population in 2020, 5.4 percentage points higher compared to 10 years ago. Zhai said the population will be aging faster over the next five years as those born during the baby-boom period of the 1960s are growing old.

COTD-CENSUS charts-2

The elderly population will rise by a record number in 2023, he estimated.

A number of experts have expressed concerns over the negative effects of aging and the declining birthrate, and have called for lifting birth limitations. “Without significant policy changes, China faces a dramatic plunge in population that would lead to a rapid decline in innovation, economic growth and national strength,” Liang Jianzhang, an entrepreneur and professor specializing in population economics at Peking University, wrote in a commentary.

Authorities should help households reduce costs of raising children, including education, housing and child care costs, so as to encourage people to have more children, he said.

Contact reporter Guo Yingzhe ( and editor Michael Bellart (

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