How the Demographics of China and India are Diverging
Within popular discourse, especially in the West, the profiles of China and India have become inextricably linked.
Aside from their massive populations and geographical proximity in Asia, the two nations also have deep cultural histories and traditions, growing amounts of influence on the world stage, and burgeoning middle classes.
China and India combine to be home to one-third of the world’s megacities, and they even had identical real GDP growth rates of 6.1% in 2019, based on early estimates by the IMF.
But aside from the obvious differences in their political regimes, the two populous nations have also diverged in another way: demographics.
As seen in today’s animation, which comes from AnimateData and leverages data from the United Nations, the two countries are expected to have very different demographic compositions over time as their populations age.
The easiest way to see this is through a macro lens:
Populations of China and India (1950-2100)
|🇮🇳 India||0.38 billion||1.37 billion||1.64 billion||1.45 billion|
|🇨🇳 China||0.55 billion||1.43 billion||1.40 billion||1.06 billion|
Although the countries have roughly the same populations today — by 2050, India will add roughly 270 million more citizens, and China’s total will actually decrease by 30 million people.
Let’s look at the demographic profiles of these countries to break things down further. We’ll do this by charting populations of age groups (0-14 years, 15-24 years, 25-64 years, and 65+ years).
China: Aftermath of the One-Child Policy
China’s one-child policy was implemented in 1979 — and although it became no longer effective starting in 2016, there’s no doubt that the long-term demographic impacts of this drastic measure will be felt for generations:
The first thing you’ll notice in the above chart is that China’s main working age population cohort (25-64 years) has essentially already peaked in size.
Further, you’ll notice that the populations of children (0-14 years) and young adults (15-24 years) have both been on the decline for decades.
A reduction in births is something that happens naturally in a demographic transition. As an economy becomes more developed, it’s common for fertility rates to decrease — but in China’s case, it has happened prematurely through policy. As a result, the country’s age distribution doesn’t really fit a typical profile.
India: A Workforce Peaking in 2050
Meanwhile, projections have India reaching a peak workforce age population near the year 2050:
By the year 2050, it’s estimated that India’s workforce age population will be comparable in size to that of China’s today — over 800 million people strong.
However, given that this is at least 30 years in the future, it raises all kinds of questions around the economic relevance of a “working age” population in a landscape potentially dominated by technologies such as artificial intelligence and automation.
While it’s clear that the world’s two most populous countries have some key similarities, they are both on very different demographic paths at the moment.
China’s population has plateaued, and will eventually decline over the remainder of the 21st century. There is plenty of room to grow economically, but the weight of an aging population will create additional social and economic pressures. By 2050, it’s estimated that over one-third of the country will be 60 years or older.
On the other hand, India is following a more traditional demographic path, as long as it is uninterrupted by drastic policy decisions. The country will likely top out at 1.6-1.7 billion people, before it begins to experience the typical demographic transition already experienced by more developed economies in North America, Europe, and Japan.
And by the time the Indian workforce age group hits 800+ million people, it will be interesting to see how things interplay with the world’s inevitable technological shift to automation and a changing role for labor.
The Population of China in Perspective
China is the world’s most populous country. But how does the population of China compare to the rest of the world?
The Population of China in Perspective
China is the world’s most populous country with an astounding 1.44 billion citizens. Altogether, the size of the population of China is larger than nearly four regions combined: South America, Europe (excluding Russia), the U.S. & Canada, and Australia & New Zealand.
Using data from the United Nations, this unconventional map reveals the comparative size of China’s population next to a multitude of other countries.
Note: To keep the visualization easy to read, we’ve simplified the shapes representing countries. For example, although we’ve included Alaska and Hawaii in U.S. population totals, the U.S. is represented by the contiguous states map only.
A Historical Perspective
Looking at history, the population of China has more than doubled since the 1950s. The country was the first in the world to hit one billion people in 1980.
However, in 1979, in an attempt to control the burgeoning population, the infamous one-child policy was introduced, putting controls on how many children Chinese citizens could have.
While the government eventually recognized the negative implications of this policy, it appeared to be too little, too late. The two-child policy was introduced in 2016, but it has not yet reversed the current slowdown in population growth.
|Year||China's Population (Millions)||Annual Rate of Growth (%)||Median Age||Fertility Rate|
The fertility rate has been consistently falling from over 6 births per woman in 1955 to 1.69 in 2020. Today, the median age in China is 38 years old, rising from 22 in 1955. Longer life spans and fewer births form a demographic trend that has many social and economic implications.
Overall, China’s young population is becoming scarcer, meaning that the domestic labor market will eventually begin shrinking. Additionally, the larger share of elderly citizens will require publicly-funded resources, resulting in a heavier societal and financial burden.
Strength in Numbers
Despite these trends, however, China’s current population remains massive, constituting almost 20% of the world’s total population. Right now 71% of the Chinese population is between the ages of 15 and 65 years old, meaning that the labor supply is still immense.
Here are the populations of 65 countries from various regions of the world—and added together, you’ll see they still fall short of the population of China:
|🇺🇸 U.S.||331,002,651||North America|
|🇨🇦 Canada||37,742,154||North America|
|🇧🇷 Brazil||212,559,417||South America|
|🇨🇴 Colombia||50,882,891||South America|
|🇦🇷 Argentina||45,195,774||South America|
|🇵🇪 Peru||32,971,854||South America|
|🇻🇪 Venezuela||28,435,940||South America|
|🇨🇱 Chile||19,116,201||South America|
|🇪🇨 Ecuador||17,643,054||South America|
|🇧🇴 Bolivia||11,673,021||South America|
|🇵🇾 Paraguay||7,132,538||South America|
|🇺🇾 Uruguay||3,473,730||South America|
|🇬🇾 Guyana||786,552||South America|
|🇸🇷 Suriname||586,632||South America|
|🇬🇫 French Guyana||298,682||South America|
|🇫🇰 Falkland Islands||3,480||South America|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||4,822,233||Oceania|
|🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina||3,280,819||Europe|
|🇲🇰 North Macedonia||2,083,374||Europe|
|🇸🇲 San Marino||33,931||Europe|
|🇻🇦 Vatican City||801||Europe|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||67,886,011||Europe|
|🇮🇲 Isle of Man||85,033||Europe|
|🇫🇴 Faroe Islands||48,863||Europe|
To break it down even further, here’s a look at the population of each of the regions listed above:
- Australia and New Zealand: 30.3 million
- Europe (excluding Russia): 601.7 million
- South America: 430.8 million
- The U.S. and Canada: 368.7 million
Combined their population is 1.432 billion compared to China’s 1.439 billion.
Overall, the population of China has few comparables. India is one exception, with a population of 1.38 billion. As a continent, Africa comes in close as well at 1.34 billion people. Here’s a breakdown of Africa’s population for further comparison.
|🇨🇮 Côte d'Ivoire||26,378,274||Africa|
|🇧🇫 Burkina Faso||20,903,273||Africa|
|🇸🇱 Sierra Leone||7,976,983||Africa|
|🇨🇻 Cabo Verde||555,987||Africa|
|🇸🇭 Saint Helena||6,077||Africa|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||59,308,690||Africa|
|🇪🇭 Western Sahara||597,339||Africa|
|🇨🇩 Democratic Republic of the Congo||89,561,403||Africa|
|🇨🇫 Central African Republic||4,829,767||Africa|
|🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea||1,402,985||Africa|
|🇸🇹 Sao Tome and Principe||219,159||Africa|
|🇸🇸 South Sudan||11,193,725||Africa|
Future Outlook on the Population of China
Whether or not China’s population growth is slowing appears to be less relevant when looking at its sheer size. While India is expected to match the country’s population by 2026, China will remain one of the world’s largest economic powerhouses regardless.
It is estimated, however, that the population of China will drop below one billion people by the year 2100—bumping the nation to third place in the ranking of the world’s most populous countries. At the same time, it’s possible that China’s economic dominance may be challenged by these same demographic tailwinds as time moves forward.
Visualizing China’s Dominance in Rare Earth Metals
Rare earth deposits exist all over the planet, but the majority of the world’s rare earth metals are produced and refined in China.
China’s Dominance in Rare Earth Metals
Did you know that a single iPhone contains eight different rare earth metals?
From smartphones and electric vehicles to x-rays and guided-missiles, several modern technologies wouldn’t be what they are without rare earth metals. Also known as rare earth elements or simply “rare earths”, this group of 17 elements is critical to a number of wide-ranging industries.
Although deposits of rare earth metals exist all over the world, the majority of both mining and refining occurs in China. The above graphic from CSIS China Power Project tracks China’s exports of rare earth metals in 2019, providing a glimpse of the country’s dominating presence in the global supply chain.
China’s Top Rare Earth Export Destinations
Around 88% of China’s 2019 rare earth exports went to just five countries, which are among the world’s technological and economic powerhouses.
|Export Destination||Share of China's Rare Earth Exports||Top Rare Earth Import (tons)|
|Rest of the World||12.1%||Cerium|
Japan and the U.S. are by far the largest importers, collectively accounting for more than two-thirds of China’s rare earth metals exports.
Lanthanum, found in hybrid vehicles and smartphones, was China’s largest rare earth export by volume, followed by cerium. In dollar terms, terbium was the most expensive—generating $57.9 million from just 115 metric tons of exports.
Why China’s Dominance Matters
As the world transitions to a cleaner future, the demand for rare earth metals is expected to nearly double by 2030, and countries are in need of a reliable supply chain.
China’s virtual monopoly in rare earth metals not only gives it a strategic upper hand over heavily dependent countries like the U.S.—which imports 80% of its rare earths from China—but also makes the supply chain anything but reliable.
“China will not rule out using rare earth exports as leverage to deal with the [Trade War] situation.”
—Gao Fengping et al., 2019, in a report funded by the Chinese government via Horizon Advisory.
A case in point comes from 2010 when China reduced its rare earth export quotas by 37%, which in part resulted in skyrocketing rare earth prices worldwide.
The resulting supply chain disruption was significant enough to push the EU, the U.S., and Japan to jointly launch a dispute settlement case through the World Trade Organization, which was ruled against China in 2014.
On the brighter side, the increase in prices led to an influx of capital in the rare earth mining industry, financing more than 200 projects outside China. While this exploration boom was short-lived, it was successful in kick-starting production in other parts of the world.
Breaking China’s Rare Earth Monopoly
China’s dominance in rare earths is the result of years of evolving industrial policies since the 1980s, ranging from tax rebates to export restrictions. In order to reduce dependence on China, the U.S. and Japan have made it a priority to diversify their sources of rare earth metals.
For starters, the U.S. has added rare earth metals to its list of critical minerals, and President Donald Trump recently issued an executive order to encourage local production. On the other side of the world, Japan is making efforts to reduce China’s share of its total rare earth imports to less than 50% by 2025.
Increasing rare earth mining outside of China has reduced China’s global share of mining, down from 97.7% in 2010 to 62.9% in 2019. But mining is merely one piece of the puzzle.
Ultimately, the large majority of rare earth refining, 80%, resides in China. Therefore, even rare earths mined overseas are sent to China for final processing. New North American refining facilities are being set up to tackle this, but the challenge lies in managing the environmental impacts of processing rare earths.
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