China’s Recent Fertility Decline: Evidence from Reconstructed Fertility Statistics

By Zhongwei Zhao, Xiaomu Zhang


The study of China’s fertility has been in a strange situation since the early 1990s. On the one hand, the growing number of censuses, fertility surveys and annual surveys of population change should provide sufficient data for detailed investigation of recent fertility decline; on the other hand, key fertility data are increasingly affected by problems of under-reporting and internal inconsistency that form an obstacle to such investigations. This is partly due to the fact that while the statistical authority has published some adjusted fertility statistics, it has been rather reluctant to release details of the technique used to make such adjustments since the late 1990s. This study intends to fill some gaps in our understanding of China’s recent fertility changes. It further investigates the inconsistencies in fertility data obtained from various sources, then reconstructs two sets of internally consistent fertility statistics using officially released numbers of births and our revised numbers of births. On the basis of these reconstructed statistics, the paper examines China’s recent fertility decline and addresses a number of related issues. It concludes that while data quality has become a widespread problem, under-reporting of some fertility data may not be as severe as that implied by the officially adjusted CBRs or TFRs. A drastic fertility reduction occurred in China in the early 1990s. The TFR, rather than staying at 1.8 as suggested by the government, fell to below 1.7 in the second half of the decade and has further declined to a lower level since then.


  • China
  • fertility changes
  • fertility data
  • below replacement fertility
  • data quality
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