China’s National Bureau of Statistics has been publishing the data on the “age-specific fertility rate of childbearing women” – the measure of how many children were born to different age groups – annually since 2004.
But in the 2017, China’s statistics yearbook those figures were removed.
According to figures from the statistics agency, there were 17.86 million births in China last year, up from 16.55 million in 2015. But the age-specific data is important when calculating demographic trends.
The statistics agency’s number, which indicated a fertility ratio of 1.05 in 2015, ran counter to an estimated fertility rate of 1.6 from the National Heath and Family Planning Commission, the body that is responsible for China’s family planning policy and ruthlessly implemented the country’s one-child policy for decades.
Academics and statisticians have raised doubts about the figures over the years and they have been criticised for misguiding policymaking.
Liang Zhongtang, a demographer who sat on the state family planning commission in the 1980s, said China’s fertility rate had failed to show any meaningful increase after the country officially rolled out a universal two-child policy in 2016, adding that could be one reason for the non-disclosure.
“A gap between what the government actually got and what they had expected may persuade them to stop releasing the data,” Liang said.
Yi Fuxian, a long-term critic of China’s birth control policy and a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States, caused a stir in May by saying that China’s population size had been overestimated by 90 million, and that China’s real population may be smaller than India’s.
The family planning commission said in August that the country’s fertility ratio may have risen to 1.7 in 2016 following the implementation of a two-child policy, heightening the divergence between its data and those from the statistics bureau.
It also announced in June that it would conduct its own research to find out the fertility ratio.
Huang Wenzheng, a senior researcher from Beijing-based think tank Centre for China and Globalisation, said the conflicting numbers between the statistics bureau and the family planning commission may have persuaded the former to stop releasing the data.
Asked on Sunday whether China would soon relax the two-child limit on couples, Li Bin, minister of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said the authority would use “scientific judgment” of China’s demographic situation to harness family planning policies.
Yi Fuxian, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a long-standing opponent of China’s birth control policy, said more changes could be on the way next year.
“In my best guess, Xi will stop birth control totally at the 3rd plenary session of the 19th party congress [in late 2018],” Yi said.
“Despite moves to unwind the one-child policy, younger people do not need to be prevented from having more than one child; they may require significant encouragement to have any children at all,” the report said.
“If so, the global implications would be massive, given that China’s population is 10 times that of Japan, and given that China doesn’t yet have a sound social security system.
“There’s a chance that ageing, particularly in China, could lead to higher inflation rates and higher interest rates around the world,” the report said.
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