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OCR for page 71
CHAPTER 6 CONCLUSIONS The welcome flood of accurate demographic data from China provides an unusually detailed depiction of an extra- ordinary population. Being the most populous nation in the world has not prevented the People's Republic of China from compressing into a short time very big reduc- tions in fertility (more than 50 percent in a decade) and mortality (more than 20 years added to the expectation of life at birth in about 15 years). The earliest data are not inconsistent with the fertility (about the same TFR) and nuptiality (marriage about 1 year later) of tradi- tional China, as reconstructed from a survey around 1930. The latest data are not inconsistent with some of the principal demographic characteristics of developed countries two or three decades ago. The most recent TFR in China is about the same as in the United States or a typical population in Western Europe in the 1960s; the recent average duration of life is not far from that attained in those populations about 30 years ago. Age at marriage has also changed from the very early norms traditional in much of Asia to ages more like those found in the West. The rapid changes of fertility, mortality, and nuptial- ity in China have not been without costs (the excess mortality and abnormal reduction with subsequent abnormal recovery in fertility in the "bitter years"). That the surprisingly rapid changes have also incurred grave social costs can be inferred from the recent decision to reduce pressure for late marriage and from the anomalous high male/female ratio of births of second and higher order in 1981. The marriage boom of 1981-82 is not the only obstacle to attaining and maintaining very low fertility. Further upward pressure on the birth rate in the late 1980s is built into the age distribution of 71
OCR for page 71
72 China's population. In contrast to the reduced number of women in their early 20s in 1982 (because of the greatly reduced birth cohorts for l9S8-61), during the next few years the much larger birth cohorts of 1963-70 will be in the normal ages of first marriage and soon thereafter in the very fertile years following marriage. Doubtless there will be surprises, setbacks, and severe social costs among the future developments in the population of China. The changes will be better under- stood and the basis for policy sounder if the authorities continue to monitor the dynamics of the Chinese population closely and to continue to publish the data they collect. However, a rich lode of useful information is still to be extracted from the censuses and the fertility survey. This report has used only a fraction of the published data from the survey and has hardly touched the information contained in the census. Analysis of the sort attempted here can be extended to a separate treatment of mortality by sex and to the demography of various subgroups--the population of provinces, persons of various social and economic characteristics, etc. Continued analysis of the data already collected will be as valuable as the continued compilation of new data.