BEIJING China's population grew to 1.34 billion by 2010, according to census figures released on Thursday, up 5.9 percent from the 1.27 billion counted in the last census in 2000, and lower than the 1.4 billion population some demographers had projected for the latest tally.
The census results showed that China, the world's second-biggest economy after the United States, is rapidly urbanizing and becoming older. These trends augur big changes in the labor market in coming years, as the number of potential workers, especially from the countryside, shrinks.
The figures also showed that China's population is growing more slowly than in the past. Between 1990 and 2000, the total population increased by 11.7 percent.
By 2010, half of China's population, 49.7 percent, lived in urban areas. In 2000, 36.1 percent of Chinese lived in cities and towns, although that census used a different counting method.
China is also aging, the latest census showed.
The proportion of mainland Chinese people aged 14 or younger was 16.60 percent, down by 6.29 percentage points from the number in the 2000 census. The number aged 60 or older grew to 13.26 percent, up 2.93 percentage points.
"The change in the age composition of population is a reflection of great improvement in the standard of living and medical and health undertakings along with fast economic and social development, the continued low level of fertility, and the accelerated process of population aging."
The Chinese government's strict controls on family size, including a one-child policy for most urban families, have brought down annual population growth to below 1 percent and the rate is projected to turn negative in coming decades.
China's choke on family size to usually one child in cities and two in the countryside now threatens its economic future, many demographers have said, with fewer people left to pay and care for an increasingly graying population.
(Reporting by Michael Martina and Wang Lan; Writing by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ken Wills)