Reexamining China's fertility puzzle: Data collection and quality over the last two decades

Type Journal Article - Population and Development Review
Title Reexamining China's fertility puzzle: Data collection and quality over the last two decades
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2006
Page numbers 293-321
URL and Development Review​2006.pdf
CHINA’S FERTILITY LEVEL has become a matter of considerable debate since
the early 1990s. According to the 1982 One-Per-Thousand Fertility Sample
Survey and the 1990 census, the total fertility rate (TFR) fell from 5.7 births
per woman in 1970 to 2.3 in 1989 (Coale and Chen 1987: 529; Zhang and
Cui 1994). Like those derived from the 1953 and 1964 censuses and earlier
fertility surveys, these results were widely accepted. The confidence in
China’s fertility data, however, was shattered when the results of the 1992
national fertility survey appeared to show that the TFR reached 1.65 in 1991
and 1.52 in 1992. These figures surprised the demographic community and
were rejected immediately as being the result of serious underreporting.
Despite this widely held consensus, researchers failed to reach an agreement
about China’s fertility level. The estimated TFR for 1992 ranged from
1.70 to 2.10 (Feeney and Yuan 1994). Subsequently, the 1995 intercensal
sample survey reported an even lower TFR of 1.46 (NBS 1997b). Again,
demographers concluded that this resulted from flawed data collection and
asserted that actual fertility was much higher. The estimates made by the
Chinese government and Chinese scholars ranged from 1.69 to 1.87 (Zhang,
Yu, and Cui 1997; Yu and Xie 2000; Qiao 1998). It was hoped that these
long-standing disagreements would be settled by the 2000 census. But rather
than solving China’s fertility puzzle, the census recorded a TFR of 1.22, which
led to another round of debate and fertility estimation. While some researchers
were convinced that China’s TFR was as low as 1.58 at the end of the
twentieth century (Retherford et al. 2005; Scharping 2005; Zhang G. 2004b;
Cai 2005), others insisted that it was still 1.8 or higher (CPIRC Research
Group 2003; Liang 2003; Zhang and Cui 2003).

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