China's Demographic Future

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China is now and where it is heading over the next 20 years.

The ‘no nonsense’ briefing on the future of China.

By understanding how China’s demographic profile will change over the next 20 years the reader will see the opportunities (and challenges) that will emerge in future years.

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Changes to the One Child Policy October 2015

The Book will be updated by the 15th of December for the implications of the Change in the One Child Policy made in October.  The updated version will be automatically made available to existing purchasers at no extra charge. A preliminary view of the impact is given in out November Insight.

Understanding the demographic profile of a country is an essential underpinning of any business or investment strategy.  The age and education profile of the population determines many aspects of consumption as well as the capability of the society to develop.  By understanding how China’s demographic profile will change the reader will see the opportunities that can emerge in future years,

Chapter One: Introduction, Content and Methodology

This chapter explains why it is important to understand the nature in which China’s demographic profile will change over the next 20 years. It also explains the content of each of the subsequent 10 Chapters so that the reader can understand the range of issues covered by each Chapter and how the overall picture is developed.

The second half of this Chapter is a detailed discussion of the methodology employed to provide these forecasts, including data sources, timeliness of the data, the process of data cleaning, the model used and the assumption behind the solution methods employed.

In 2015 China Accounts for an estimated 9% of global consumer expenditure. By 2035 it is estimated to reach 15%. In real values this means an increase of 137% in total consumer spending.


Chapter Two: The Existing Demographic Profile

The existing size, gender and age profile of the population is the fundamental determinant of many future changes in a society. It therefore has to be the starting point of the forecasts. So the Second Chapter of this book provides the reader a comprehensive description of the existing (and immediate past) profile of the population of China.
It provides a briefing of the geographical organization of the population and how the population is reported in China (for example, Hukou versus residency, urban versus rural). It then looks at the existing age and gender profile of the population, separately for urban and rural and the resulting size of the key life stage segments. This is followed by a description of the existing situation in terms of housing including the number of units, physical size and profile in terms of number of people in them.

The next section provides a description of the ‘drivers’ behind the labour force. That is the number of working age persons and their propensity to be in work, and the existing number of workers and how that has changed over the last decade. This is done separately for urban and rural populations as the dynamics are quite different. This leads into a description of the factors which influence the productivity of the workforce and how they have changed over the last decade. That is education and Accumulated Fixed Capital Investment per worker.

Finally, there is an examination of household incomes and how they have changed in the last decade.

In 2015 China’s total population is estimated at 1.37 Billion persons:

Of These

  • 49% are over the age of 40 years
  • 56% are living in an urban area
  • 46% are employed
  • Avg Urban Household income is Rmb 98,000
  • 56% have Lower secondary or better education
  • 23% of urban hosueholds have an income over Rmb 300,000 (US$50,000)

Historic and Projected Trend in Total Population, Births and Deaths (mns)

Historic and Projected Trend in Total Population, Births and Deaths (mns)

Chapter Three: The core dynamics behind population change over the next 20 years.

This Chapter examines the expected trends in birthrates, number of women of childbearing age, death rates by age and gender and, finally, migration and their collective impact on both National Population as well as the population of individual provinces. The most problematic of these is of course birthrates as these can change as a result of government policy, specifically, the potential relaxation of the one child policy, which cannot be forecast.

This Chapter also looks at the ‘Gender’ Issue. At present it is not really a problem as the gender bias is not great in the existing adult population. But the key word is ‘existing’. The gender bias in births over the last decade has been growing and the issue is important by 2025 and certain serious by 2035.

This Chapter then looks at the impact of the above factors together with province to province migration on the Province level populations.

This Chapter then concludes with a discussion of the effects of the changes to the one child policy in 2014 on total births.

Chapter Four: Urbanisation

Urbanisation has been a significant factor behind population change in China over the last two decades.  As a result of having education available in the rural (and urban) areas it enabled a large labour resource to move from low productivity agriculture jobs to higher productivity urban jobs (tertiary and manufacturing).  This movement of labour has helped boost China’s productivity as urban employment is typically three times more productive than rural.

While Urbanisation is expected to continue in the future as shown in the chart opposite, the nature of urbanisation is changing as it transits from young people (15 to 39) physically moving to urban locations to counties being reclassified as urban (and no actual movement of people) and which has less of an impact on productivity..

Given trends in the probability of a person by age group moving to an urban areas, and the overall age profile of the rural population, it is projected that: 

  • Total Urban Population is projected to reach 973 million in 2025 and 1,1,112 million in 2035
  • The next decade to 2025 will have 19.9 mn extra urban dwellers per annum
  • Whereas in 2015 56% of the population is living in an urban areas, by 2035 it is projected to reach 78%
Historic and Projected Trend in Urban and Rural Populations (mns)

Historic and Projected Trend in Urban and Rural Populations (mns)

Projected Change in Life Stage/Age Segments in Urban China (2015 to 2035)

Projected Change in Life Stage/Age Segments in Urban China (2015 to 2035)

Chapter Five: The Evolving Consumer and Household Profile

This Chapter explains the changes that are expected to take place in terms of Life Stage/Age Groups in each of urban and rural China and the implications of that for  the nature of the households. It details the projected change in number of households, the number of people in them as well as the size of cities they are located in.

The fastest growing life stage segment for the next two decades is the urban ‘Working Age Empty Nester’. It grows in number of persons by 38% in two decades. In contrast the Young Adult Segment grows by 15% – but declines by 14% in the decade to 2025.  These changes in segment size and growth rates have significant implications for the future pattern of consumer demand.

This Chapter also shows how the actual sociological nature of the household can be expected to change – for example, the growth of the ‘childless households’ segment.

Chapter Six: Education

Education is important as it influences not only the productivity of a worker but it also influences many aspects of society such as reducing the propensity to have more than one child, lifestyle choice, health, and propensity to spend and save. As detailed in this Chapter, China has achieved very significant improvements in education and clearly it lifted millions of peoples’ opportunities and life style. But the projected e rate of improvement will now slow as a result of a combination of fewer young people exiting the education system (as a result of the changing age profile of the population) and, frankly, the big improvements have now been achieved with most having lower secondary or better education.

The challenge now is to reduce the differential between provinces.  In part this has been a function of education – the more able have migrated to the cities (and provinces) where the better work opportunities are.  However, it does mean the capabilities of the labour force of some provinces is not as good as others.  This in turn impacts the ability of some Provinces to grow economically.

Historic and Projected Trend in Number of Persons 15 yrs + by Level of Education

Historic and Projected Trend in Number of Persons 15 yrs + by Level of Education

Historic and Projected Size and Trend of Urban and Rural Labour Force.

Historic and Projected Size and Trend of Urban and Rural Labour Force.

Chapter Seven: The Labour force

This Chapter address the issue of how many workers there will be and where they will be located? The labour force is significant because it is effectively the ‘engine’ of the economy. China has been unusual in that relative to most countries it has a very high proportion of its population being of working age and actually in employment.  Its working age population is growing slowly to 2025 and then declines, even after allowing for an increasing proportion of 65 to 74 year olds continuing in work. That, combined with a reduced propensity of working age persons to be in employment (for example, as a result of staying in education longer) it is estimated that the total employed labour force will decline from 761 million in 2015 to 640 million in 2035.

However, all of this decline is in terms of the rural labour force.  The urban labour force, as a result of rural to urban migration (biased to persons of working age) and the urban age profile generally being biased to working age, is projected to continue to grow over the next decade, albeit at a slower pace, and then stabilise through to 2035. This is important to China’s economic performance. Urban workers are estimated to be about three times more productive than rural.

Chapter Eight: The Impact of Demographics on GDP Forecasts

This Chapter looks at the key drivers behind household income which is of course GDP (and as discussed in the subsequent chapter, the proportion of GDP that remains in the private consumption sector).

In terms of total GDP this chapter shows what is potentially achievable given the combined impact of improving education profile of the population, and various potential trends in accumulated fixed capital investment per worker, on productivity per worker multiplied by the expected number of workers. The main variable in this chapter is the level of fixed capital investment. Changes in that and Education have a significant statistical relationship with changes in GDP per worker (productivity). Education is stable and while it willexperience positive change over the next 20 years it is a steady and predictable improvement. The same cannot be said for fixed capital investment each year, which ultimately determines the level of accumulated Fixed capital investment per worker.

The more conservative scenario is used for the subsequent chapters on income and expenditure but the reader can see the impact of the two scenarios on total real GDP in future.  Under the more conservative scenario Total Real GDP is projected to grow at 4.8% per annum to 2020 and 3.6% per annum to 2035.

Historic and Projected Trends in the Key Determinants of Total Real GDP

Historic and Projected Trends in the Key Determinants of Total Real GDP

Historic and Projected Trend in the Distribution of Urban Households by Income Segment

Historic and Projected Trend in the Distribution of Urban Households by Income Segment

Chapter Nine: Households incomes

This Chapter examines the likely trend in average urban and rural household incomes as well as the distribution of those households by income. The analysis starts by looking at the proportion of the worker’s productivity that is paid out in wages and in the case of China it is quite low by global standards. As the Chinese Government quite explicitly wants to increase the consumption portion of the economy this will mean higher wages and household incomes.

There are, however, limits to how much that proportion of productivity that is paid in wages can be increased and this chapter looks at what the likely increase will be and then from that what that means in terms of average wage, and ultimately (given trend in number of workers per household) average household incomes. It does mean that wages will probably grow at a faster rate than productivity and household incomes will also lift at a faster rate than total real GDP (even after adjusting for a reducing number or workers per household). This chapter then moves on to look at the distribution of households around that average and how that is likely to change over the next two decade.

While the Chapter initially reports at a national level, the latter part of this chapter shows how the average income and distribution of households by income can be expected to vary by Province. There are quite considerable differences between provinces. Finally, this Chapter looks at where the most affluent segment (Households with an income over Rmb 180,000 in 2013 values) of households is located both at province level and city level.

Chapter Ten:  Household Expenditure Patterns

The shifting distribution of households by income clearly has implications for the future pattern of expenditure and that is the focus of Chapter Ten. The change is substantial.  In 2015 an urban household with an income of Rmb 60,000 will spend 73% of its gross income, and save 23%. This compares with an urban household with a gross income of Rmb 170,000 per annum which spends 59% and saves 32%. Food and non-alcoholic beverages experience the largest change, declining from 28% of gross income at the lowest income segment to 14% for households with an income over Rmb 260,000.  This decline in the proportion spent on food and non-alcoholic beverages goes into savings and the proportion spent on the other categories does not change dramatically as income increases.  

this Chapter shows how the urban sector dominates consumer spending.  In 2015 it is estimated that urban households account for 79% of all household expenditure.  By 2035 it is projected to be 90% with total rural expenditure showing little increase after 2015. It is projected that total household expenditure will grow at an average of 4.2% per annum from Rmb 26,053 Bn in 2015 to reach 58,930 Bn in 2035, under a real total GDP growth assumption of 3.6% per annum for the same period.

Historic and Projected Trend in Total Expenditure of Urban and Rural Households

Historic and Projected Trend in Total Expenditure of Urban and Rural Households

Chapter Eleven: Summary and Strategic Issues

The final chapter has two objectives. First it provides a summary of the major trends outlined in the previous chapters so the reader has an encapsulated view of how China can be expected to change over the next 20 years but with the ability to go back to individual chapters for more specific detail.

Secondly this chapter will try to highlight what the author’s see as the major strategic implications that flow from this analysis of the likely future nature of the demographics of China for people wishing to market their product or services to the Chinese consumer. While obviously the bias will be towards quantitative issues we will nonetheless look at some of the soft tissues that potentially impact market size as well as market access.


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This Publication provides a detailed analysis of how the demographic and socio-economic profile of China is expected to changes over the next 20 years to 2035.


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