There’s a new contender for the world’s most populous nation
When asking the question: “Which nation has the world’s largest population?”, naturally people will automatically think of China, a country who has for a long time held that particular crown. However, looks can be deceiving, as researcher Yi Fuxian from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has found that China’s actual population was closer to 1.29 billion in 2016 (the same year that the National Bureau of Statistics put the number at 1.37 billion), thus calling into question the official census figures, which as far back as 2015 pitted China’s population at a rather bulbous 1.37 billion.
This suggestion that China’s actual population could have been bolstered by official records is a serious one, especially bolstered to the tune of between 80-90 million people—twice the size of countries like Spain, Argentina and Kenya, and is larger than the collective populations of Canada, Australia, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates combined.
Keen to justify his findings, Fuxian suggested that the significant overshoot could be resultant of exaggerated fertility rates, which in 2015 were estimated around 1.6 children per female resident in China. These inflated figures could well have been resultant on the abolition of China’s much-maligned “one-child policy” in 2015 (instead making way for a new “two-child policy”)—yet Fuxian thinks that many couples haven’t been taking advantage of this ban lift, estimating that China’s 2015 fertility rate could have been as low as 1.05. His research justifies this, suggesting that there were 377.6 million new births in the 25 years from 1991-2016, a rather significant 87.2 million (37.6%) less than the 464.8 million births that official figures show.
Whilst seemingly outlandish at first, it seems that Yi Fuxian’s theory has been backed up by other noted researchers and statisticians. Liang Zhongtang of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences is one such champion of Yi’s theory, questioning the accuracy of official birth data thus: “The population data since the adaption of the one-child policy has been seriously false, and the family planning report has been overstated by 30%. The birth control policy which has lasted nearly four decades is not in accordance with reality”. This does go some way to explaining why China is now facing a population crisis which is seeing a drastic decline of working-age adults, yet a huge spike in elderly residents. According to South China Morning Post, China has the largest population aged over 60, accounting for 15.5% of the Chinese population in 2015, going as far as to say that around 500 million people in China will be over the age of 60 by the middle of the century.
This skewing of data has widespread global repercussions: As Time Magazine reports, “if Yi’s calculations are correct, this would mean that China’s population has already been surpassed by India’s (who last year reported a population of 1.33 billion)—something that the United Nations has not projected to happen until 2022 at the latest”. Therefore, if Fuxian and his data-analyst cohorts are correct, India has in fact already stolen China’s accolade as the most populous country in the world.The evidence does look compelling—The Guardian shows that India’s population has quadrupled since the country became independent in 1957, with the World Health Organisation projecting the country’s population will reach a monumental 1.7 billion by 2050.
Move over China—there’s a new bigwig in town.