China's population growth in the decade to 2020 was the smallest since the 1950s, according to records and the country's once-a-decade census published Tuesday

China observers said the results mean the country must consider encouraging couples to have more children. According to past censuses the country's population growth has been slowing as a result of its one-child policy introduced in the late 1970s.

The population of mainland China increased 5.38% to 1.41 billion compared with an increase of 5.84% to 1.34 billion in the 2010 census. Before this the population rose by double-digit percentages all the way back to 1953.

In April, Financial Times newspaper said the population fell in 2020 from a year earlier, quoting unidentified people familiar with the matter.

There was an increase in the proportion of young people. The census said 17.95% of the population was now 14 years or younger compared with 16.6% in 2010. The proportion of people aged between 15 and 59 was 894 million, down by 6.79 percentage points from that in the 2010 census. According to the latest population census, the number of people aged 60 and above grew to 264 million, up from 177.6 million in the 2010 census, and the number of people aged 65 and above grew to 190 million, up from 118.8 million in the 2010 census.

"A sharp decline in the number of births is a sure thing, and all kinds of evidence support this claim," Beijing-based research group Center for China and Globalization's Huang Wenzheng said according to a Reuters's report Tuesday.

"It doesn't take published census data to determine that China is facing a massive drop in births," Huang said. Even if China's population didn't decline in 2020, the expert said, "it will in 2021 or 2022, or very soon."

Urban couples, particularly those born after 1990, value their independence and careers more than raising a family despite parental pressure to have children. Increased living costs in China's big cities have also deterred couples from having children, the experts said.

The China observers said that the seventh national population census results, revealing that China's population is not just declining but also its demographic structure is deteriorating with a growing aging population, will serve as an important reference for China's population and economic policy adjustment as well as plans to put off retirement, which may come in the next year or two, a Global Times report said Tuesday.

He Yafu, an independent demographer, told the Global Times that there is no doubt that China will fully lift birth restrictions in the near future to cope with the declining birth rate and China was likely to remove its family planning policy as early as this autumn.

The National Bureau of Statistics released the results of the seventh national population census Tuesday, one month later than its previously-scheduled release period.

The China observers said the delay was probably because the census included more detailed information than in the past.

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