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China-Mortality and Fertility

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China Index

In 1949 crude death rates were probably higher than 30 per 1,000, and the average life expectancy was only 32 years. Beginning in the early 1950s, mortality steadily declined; it continued to decline through 1978 and remained relatively constant through 1987. One major fluctuation was reported in a computer reconstruction of China's population trends from 1953 to 1987 produced by the United States Bureau of the Census (see table 6, Appendix A; data in this table may vary from officially reported statistics). The computer model showed that the crude death rate increased dramatically during the famine years associated with the Great Leap Forward (1958-60, see Glossary), resulting in approximately 30 million deaths above the expected level.

According to Chinese government statistics, the crude birth rate followed five distinct patterns from 1949 to 1982. It remained stable from 1949 to 1954, varied widely from 1955 to 1965, experienced fluctuations between 1966 and 1969, dropped sharply in the late 1970s, and increased from 1980 to 1981. Between 1970 and 1980, the crude birth rate dropped from 36.9 per 1,000 to 17.6 per 1,000. The government attributed this dramatic decline in fertility to the wan xi shao (later marriages, longer intervals between births, and fewer children) birth control campaign. However, elements of socioeconomic change, such as increased employment of women in both urban and rural areas and reduced infant mortality (a greater percentage of surviving children would tend to reduce demand for additional children), may have played some role (see Labor Force , this ch.). To the dismay of authorities, the birth rate increased in both 1981 and 1982 to a level of 21 per 1,000, primarily as a result of a marked rise in marriages and first births. The rise was an indication of problems with the one-child policy of 1979 (see Population Control Programs , this ch.). Chinese sources, however, indicated that the birth rate decreased to 17.8 in 1985 and remained relatively constant thereafter.

In urban areas, the housing shortage may have been at least partly responsible for the decreased birth rate. Also, the policy in force during most of the 1960s and the early 1970s of sending large numbers of high school graduates to the countryside deprived cities of a significant proportion of persons of childbearing age and undoubtedly had some effect on birth rates (see The Cultural Revolution Decade, 1966-76 , ch. 1).

Primarily for economic reasons, rural birth rates tended to decline less than urban rates. The right to grow and sell agricultural products for personal profit and the lack of an oldage welfare system were incentives for rural people to produce many children, especially sons, for help in the fields and for support in old age. Because of these conditions, it is unclear to what degree propaganda and education improvements had been able to erode traditional values favoring large families.

Data as of July 1987

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