Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Data Uncertainties in China's Population

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Data Uncertainties in China's Population

Article excerpt


China's large population and many demographic phenomena have drawn much attention, but its population data are flawed. In the paper we address uncertainties regarding China's total population size, the fertility rate, and the death rate in China's census data. The review is aimed to alert users of China's data about the uncertainties and flaws so as to avoid misleading claims or research.

Keywords: uncertainty, population size, fertility rate, mortality rate

1. Data Uncertainties in China's Population

China is the world's most populous country, and its population-related problems have been attracting global attention. However, it is surprising how much uncertainty exists about current demographic data in China (Ren et al., 2009). First, there was uncertainty regarding the total population. In the 2000 census, the published total population was 20,720,000 above the sum of the population figures reported by the respective provinces. To make the sum of the populations reported by the respective provinces consistent with the nationally published population number, the State Council Census Office "distributed" the 20,720,000 people indicated by the census across the respective provinces (Li, 2008). Second, There is controversy over the fertility rate. The estimated total fertility rate in 2000 ranges from 1.22 to 2.3 (Ren et al., 2009). Currently, to estimate China's total fertility rate, many scholars have studied China's low fertility rate and its related effects on the population (Zeng, 2007; Gu et al., 2007; Morgan et al., 2009; Zhao & Chen, 2011; Mai et al., 2013). Although all observers agrees that the fertility rate has already reached a level below the population replacement level, and there is even a broad consensus that it is approximately 1.5, no authoritative data are universally accepted. With the publication of China's 2010 census data, China's total fertility rate has again attracted attention. Third, while there is relatively less controversy over the death rate, some uncertainties regarding the death rate, life expectancy and other variables remain.

The present paper addresses uncertainties regarding total population, the fertility rate and the death rate in China's census data. We write the review to alert users of China's data about the uncertainties so as to avoid misleading claims or research.

2. Population Size

The quality of the Chinese census data has been challenged on several counts. Coale (1984) confirmed that the age and gender data collected from the third population census of 1982 were highly reliable. However, the release of the data from the fourth census revealed the underreporting or concealing of infants by families desiring to escape punishment or violating the family planning policy. Such underreporting was also found in the 1990 census data (Johannson & Arvdsson, 1994). Although the rate of underreport in the fifth census of 2000 was1.81%, which is considered a reasonable rate of underreporting according to the international standard (Walfish, 2001), the 2000 census data are still unreliable in some respects (Lavely, 2001). One leading Chinese demographer Liang (2010) disclosed some details about Chinese 2000 census: The original 2000 census data indicate that there were only 1.2 billion people in China at that time. As this number seemed low, the census office took various actions, including a national review and gap-filling efforts. Over a period of more than two weeks of double-checking for the underreporting, more than 40 million people were identified. However, the total population figure remained 14.3 million below the figure presented in the 1999 statistics bulletin. Therefore, a 1.81% underreporting rate was assessed, and 22.27 million people were added, resulting in a total population estimate of 1.265 billion.

In China, an annual one per thousand surveys is conducted to collect annual data of population changes. The number of births, the total population, and other relevant information for that year are released based on an analysis of the sample. …

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