The Future of a Demographic Overachiever: Long-Term Implications of the Demographic Transition in China

Feng Wang
Feng Wang Former Brookings Expert, Professor - Sociology, University of California, Irvine, Professor - Fudan University in Shanghai

March 22, 2011

Content from the Brookings-Tsinghua Public Policy Center is now archived. Since October 1, 2020, Brookings has maintained a limited partnership with Tsinghua University School of Public Policy and Management that is intended to facilitate jointly organized dialogues, meetings, and/or events.


China has been an overachiever in the global process of demographic transition in the second half of the twentieth century. Its mortality decline was unparalleled in human history among populations of significant size, consequently setting the stage for rapid population growth. In turn, rapid population growth laid the foundation for an unprecedented state intervention in birth control. China’s fertility decline in the closing decades of the twentieth century was perhaps even more extraordinary for its speed and especially for the measures taken and the authorities involved. With China’s fertility now well below replacement level, what lies ahead for this demographic overachiever? In this chapter I examine three issues related to China’s demographic transition. First, I briefly review the demographic transition in China. Second, I discuss the role of the Chinese state, a particularly salient aspect of the demographic transition and one that has attracted much attention and caused a good deal of confusion. Third, using population projections, I highlight a few important features of China’s demographic future, deriving in large part from its status as a demographic overachiever.