14.27 million deaths in 2020! What is even most incomprehensible is… -China’s Population Puzzle: A Sudden Surge in 65+…

Note that the title of this article is “Population Confusion”, which means that there are logical inconsistencies in the overall data. In order to explain the problem thoroughly, I must start with the most basic part.

On May 11, the official website of the National Bureau of Statistics of China (NBS) released the data of the 7th Census of 2020, Bulletin 1-8 (the official website is http://www.stats.gov.cn/tjsj/). According to this census bulletin, we get some key data: the total population of the country in 2020 is 141.78 million (excluding Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan), a significant increase of 11.73 million compared to 14.05 million in 2019. Note that the data for 2019 are the results of the Population Sample Survey. This population sample survey is conducted every year except for the decennial census, with a 1% sample in years where there is a 5 and a 1 per 1,000 sample in other years. Since China has fully implemented the electronicization of personal information in recent years, except in rare cases, public security departments can open their computers and access the detailed household registration information, cell phone information and social security information of every person in the country. This electronic personal information system has effectively assisted the conduct of sample population surveys, which can focus their limited efforts on such variables as births, deaths, and relocations, and thus produce highly credible data each year. Even for the over-born population, a birth certificate can be issued first, and fines can be paid later, so there is little point in concealing the population. Understanding this background, let’s then extract the total population, the population aged 15-64, and the population aged 65 or older from the current census data and merge them into the larger table from 1990 to the present. Here, the incongruity comes through.

China’s new population in all years was 16.29 million in 1990 and has declined year by year since then. From 2000 onward the new population dropped below 10 million, to 9.57 million, and in 2010 the new population continued to drop to 6.41 million. Note that there were censuses in all these years and the downward trend in the number of new population is very clear. after 2010, China liberalized the second child in steps, so the number of new population was repeated, reaching a stage peak of 8.09 million in 2016, but then began to shrink rapidly thereafter, with only 4.67 million population increments in 2019. Considering that China has fully electronicized its household registration information after 2016, this means that the sampled population data after 2016 are already very credible, and it is also very obvious that the population after the release of the second child has entered a shrinking trend again.

Evolution of China’s labor force and aging population since 1990 (author’s tabulations)

However, the 2020 census data came out of nowhere: 11.73 million new people were added to the country that year! That’s stone-cold, dizzying. 11.73 million, a 151.2% increase from the 4.67 million new people added in 2019! For that kind of increase, it is so sharp that one doesn’t know what to make of it.

For this sudden population increase, we certainly need to dig into the root cause. Interestingly, the working-age population aged 15-64, instead of growing, has declined, from 989.1 million in 2019 to 967.76 million in 2020, an annual decline of 2.16%, which leads to a decline in the share of the working-age labor force in 2020 to 63.1% after deducting school students, a regression to the level of the 1980s. This decline is in line with our consistent understanding that, after all, each year’s new population is declining and population aging must lead to a decline in the total labor force. So it is perfectly normal for the working-age population, minus school students, to decline all the way after peaking at 935.66 million in 2014 and continuing to decline to 890.19 million in 2020, equivalent to the labor force level in 2007.

Where the spoof comes in, however, is in the sudden spike in figures for the over-65 population: the

The figure for 2020 is 190.64 million, up 14.61 million from 176.03 million in 2019. The annual increase in the elderly population in 2020 is in the range of 9 million, and even if it is a little more than 10 million in 2020, it will be in the order of 14.61 million, which I really can’t understand. 2020 is the year of the new 65-year-olds, that is, those born in 1955. 1955 China’s birth rate suddenly skyrocketed round? How many millions more people were born in that year than in 1954?

Based on this question, I checked the birth rate of the 1950s in the database of the National Bureau of Statistics of China, and cut a graph by hand (see below). The conclusion is very clear: the birth rate in 1955 was 32.60‰, much lower than the 37.97‰ in 1954; the natural population growth rate was 20.32‰, also much lower than the 24.79‰ in 1954. both the birth rate and the natural population growth rate in 1955 were significantly lower than in 1954.

So, I personally really don’t know where the sudden increase of 16.41 million people over 65 years old in 2020 comes from.

China’s birth rate in the 1950s (source: official website of the National Bureau of Statistics of China)

It is important to mention here that in 1955 China had a total population of 614.65 million, with 20.04 million births that year. I have bolded and enlarged this data, so I hope you will remember this data, we will use it again later.

Let’s move on to a deeper analysis of the origin of population increment. There is no doubt that population increment = new births for the year – deaths. 2020 birth and death rates are not published in the current census bulletin, perhaps they will be in the future in the detailed census database, but in any case they are not visible yet. But that’s okay, we’re good at math and have data from previous years so we can figure it out ourselves.

The census bulletin released a table of the age composition of the population in 2020, as shown in the following chart.

The age composition of the Chinese population (author’s tabulation)

The key figure lies in the total number of people aged 0-14, 253.38 million. As it happens, I have collected the number of births for each previous year, and the total number of births from 2006-2019 is 227.38 million. Let’s assume that none of these children will die young, all of them will be healthy babies, angel babies, and deducting them, we arrive at the number of births in 2020: 253.38 million – 227.38 million = 26 million. A very auspicious figure.

Well, now that we have the annual new population for 2020, 11.73 million; and the birth figure, 26 million, we can also back calculate the death figure for 2020: 2600-1173 = 14.27 million.

Next, we put this same set of data into the table of birth and death rates from 1990 to the present, for your perception.

Evolution of China’s population data since 1990 (author’s tabulation)

The birth rate in 2020 suddenly reaches 18.41 per 1,000 population, returning to the levels of the early 1990s. I won’t explain much about this data, in short it is very impressive.

The key is the death data, 14.27 million people died in 2020, far exceeding the previous level of nearly 10 million. The death rate of 8.30 per 1,000 is also well above the average of the last decade of less than 5 per 1,000. What’s going on here?

The more critical problem is that there is a very serious logical inconsistency between this death data and the elderly population data. 16.41 million people over 65 years of age were added in 2020, and 14.27 million people died in China in that year. The death population in China today is basically elderly, and the death rate of young people is still very low, which we still have to believe, after all, it is common sense. So, this means that in 2020 there must be more than 30 million elderly people replenished into the group of people over 65 years old in order to realize the growth of the data of the aging population and to realize the self-consistent logic of the data!

However, the most incomprehensible thing happened: the population born in 1955 was 20.04 million, and even if these people survived the subsequent poor torment, none of them died in the middle, and then after the reform and opening up, they survived the inflation wave in the early 90s and the layoff wave in the late 90s, and then worked until retirement without a single one left, and lived until now, they are still Nowhere near enough to make up the number of 30 million! ……

So, as far as the 2020 population data is concerned, I really don’t know what to analyze. There is a logical and strong correlation between data and data. Attempting to optimize any of the data would have a huge impact on the entire chain of data logic. In the case of the 2020 census data, I personally lack the ability to calm down this impact (I hope there will be another data guru born in China besides me, who can analyze the whole chain of population data and solve all my doubts above perfectly).