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Total Population and Average Number of Children per Woman in China, 1950-2100

China: Total Population and Total Fertility

Source: United Nations, Department of Social and Economic Affairs, Population Division: World Population Prospects, The 2010 Revision. New York, 2011 (
Note: This chart displays interpolated Total Fertility Rates for single years. For Total Fertility the last year is 2099. 

According to the 2010 Revision of the United Nations World Population Prospects, China's women, on average, had more than 6 children in the early 1950s. The Total Fertility Rate (TFR), which measures the average number of children per women, briefly dropped in the late 1950s and early 1960s, as China went through the disaster of the "Great Leap Forward", one of largest man-made famines in recorded history. By the late 1960s, China's TFR had again increased to almost 6 children per woman. The very high fertility in the early 1950s and late 1960s corresponded well with Mao's political dogma that a huge population would promote China's military and political power. The high fertility caused the enormous population increase of modern China and is responsible for the huge momentum effect which is now incorporated in China's age structure.

However, with the start of China's "one-child" population policy the country experienced one of the most dramatic fertility declines in human history - particularly if one takes into account the large number of people that where involved in it. Hundreds of millions of Chinese women reduced their fertility and by the late 1990s the country's TFR had dropped below the so-called reproductive level of about 2.1. Measured by (period) fertility, China's women, on average, had less children than were necessary to replace the parent generation.
While fertility measures in China are still highly uncertain most experts agree that the TFR is now around 1.6 - far below the reproductive level of 2.1. The range of uncertainty is indicated by the fact that credible sources have published TFR estimates that range between 1.4 and 1.8 children per women. The future trend of fertility in China is highly uncertain. In their medium variant projection the United Nations Population Division assumes a slight increase of fertility to 1.79 children per women in 2050, and to 2.01 children in 2100, which would still be below the reproductive level.
With this medium variant fertility projection (which is based on the median of a probabilistic fertility projection), China's population would decline from a peak of 1.395 billion in 2025 to 941 million in 2100. Assuming that China's total fertility would remain constant at current levels, the population would increase - by population momentum alone - to 1.409 billion people around 2025, before declining to 1.303 billion in 2050 and 829 million people in 2100. However, with an average fertility of about half a child more, China's population could easily increase to 1.479 billion in 2050 and 1.587 billion in 2100 - as indicated by the high variant of the 2010 Revision of the United Nations World Population Prospects.
The now extended projection period of the United Nations World Population Prospects clearly illustrates that even moderate changes in total fertility of one half-child up or down could lead to vastly different total population size in China by the end of the century: According to the low fertility projection China's population would be 506 million by 2100; according to the high fertility projection, the population would be 1.587 billion. A one child difference in total fertility (which is the difference between the low and high fertility variant) is equivalent to a tripling of the population in China!

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This section was updated on 8 June 2011.

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Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved. - 18 April 2012