CHINA WILL CEASE to be the most populous country sometime this week, according to a new estimate by a UN agency.
The UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) says that India’s population is expected to surpass China’s 1,425,775,850 people by the end of this month.
China’s population peaked at 1.426 billion in 2022 and has started to fall. Projections are for it to drop below 1 billion before the end of the century.
By contrast, India’s population is forecast to grow for the next several decades.
DESA’s estimate is an advance on last week’s estimate by the UN Population Fund that India would have 2.9 million more people than China by the middle of this year.
China’s birth rate has plunged, with its population shrinking last year for the first time since the end of the Great Famine in 1961. Last year, at 1.2 births per woman, China had one of the world’s lowest fertility rates and well below the ‘replacement’ rate of 2.1, which is the level required for populations to remain stable in the long term in the absence of migration.
In contrast, India’s population is expected to continue growing for several decades, although fertility rates there are also slowing.
China’s contingent problem is that its number of persons aged 65 or over is expected to double nearly, and the growth of the older population as a proportion of the total population will be much faster in China than in India.
Supporting an older population will become a growing burden on China’s resources. The government will have to provide more health and social care, which will have to be paid for by a relatively smaller cohort of those of working age. This will increase the need to extend working years.
Crucially for economic growth, the number of working-age adults in India is projected to continue increasing both in number and as a proportion of the total population until the middle of the century. However, the reverse will be true in China within a few years, as the percentage of the population aged 25-64 peaks, constraining growth over the next few decades.
For China, that raises the spectre that it will get old before it gets rich.