After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese population developed rapidly over the following decades. To counteract this explosion in population, the so-called one-child policy was introduced in 1979. Although the policy was effective in slowing down population growth, it was controversially discussed because of multiple negative side effects. One of those negative effects, the shift towards an older median age of the Chinese population, eventually caused the government to revise the policy. On October 29, 2015, the existing law was changed to a two-child policy, becoming effective on January 1, 2016. However, this policy shift did not seem to have a lasting effect on the birth rate: the total number of births in China grew to 17.86 million in 2016, but then fell again to a long time low at 15.23 million births in 2018. The aging society will lead to a rising old-age dependency ratio in China, which is expected to grow to 50 percent by the middle of the century from below 20 percent today. This means that by then one working adult will statistically have to support one person above 65 years of age.
Apart from population size, urbanization in China gained momentum following the initiation of the reform and opening policy in 1978. By the end of 2018, a share of nearly 60 percent of the Chinese population resided in cities and towns, a dramatic increase from less than 20 percent in 1980. In 2018, around 831 million people were living in urban areas of China while 564 million people lived in rural areas. The urbanization rate is generally higher in the economically better developed coastal regions in eastern and southern China than in other regions, although the lesser developed western and central regions are more and more keeping up in recent years.
The majority of the Chinese people live in the eastern provinces and municipalities of the country. The regions form a broad arc reaching from the northern city of Harbin through Beijing, Shanghai and all the way down to Guangdong. Guangdong is the most populous province in China with a population of approximately 113 million people by the end of 2018, followed by Shandong, Henan, and Sichuan provinces with around 100, 96 and 83 million inhabitants respectively. The autonomous region of Tibet was the least inhabited region in the country with only three million inhabitants in 2018.