BEIJING, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- Despite a rebound in China's fourth-quarter economic growth, a shrink in the country's working-age population has cast a shadow on its future prospects.
In 2012, the number of working-age people in China decreased by 3.45 million to 937.27 million, Ma Jiantang, director of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) told a press conference on Friday.
It is the first time the country has recorded an absolute drop in the working-age population in "a considerable period of time," according to Ma.
"We need to pay serious attention to this," he said. He believes the causes lie in China's changing fertility rate.
"I can't deny that I'm worried about this problem," he told reporters, adding that he expects China's working-age population to decrease "steadily and gradually" over a long period or "at least before 2030."
The working-age population, which covers ages between 15 and 59, accounted for 69.2 percent of the country's total population in 2012, down 0.6 percentage points from 2011, the year in which the rate declined for the first time, said Ma.
The year 2012 saw 16.35 million births in China, with a birth rate of 12.1 percent, up 0.017 percentage points from 2011, according to the NBS.
By the end of 2012, China's population stood at 1.354 billion, increasing 6.69 million in the past year.
Ma suggested that China needs an "appropriate and scientific" population policy in line with demographic changes, as there have been shifts in the country's demographic and labor supply patterns after decades of its family planning policy.
However, he went on to say that the family planning policy should still be adhered to, noting that it has played a crucial role in helping reduce the birth rate and facilitating the country's sustainable, healthy development.
But Ma also said it remains debateable whether the change marks the end of China's demographic dividend, which has supported the country's economic growth all through the past years.
While addressing the decline as a challenge, Ma pointed out that China still has more than 900 million people at working age, which is one of the nation's major resource advantages.
He emphasized that, faced with the challenge, China should work to boost labor productivity, as well as improve people's education and adjust types of employment, to extend the demographic dividend.
The fading of China's demographic dividend has required China to increase spending on education and culture to boost the quality of the country's human resources, said Wang Jun, an economist at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, an elite think-tank in Beijing.
More focus should be given to the contribution of technological innovation on the country's economic growth, he added.
Meanwhile, Wang agreed that the early arrival of an aging society will have a deep impact on China's future development, which demands an "appropriate" adjustment in the country's population policy.
The country has otherwise pinned hopes on measures like urbanization and scientific innovation to boost its future growth.
China's urban inhabitants accounted for 52.57 percent of its total population at the end of 2012, up 1.3 percentage points from a year earlier, NBS data showed.
China's economy posted its weakest expansion in a decade in 2012 by growing 7.8 percent year on year amid external jitters and domestic woes.
In the fourth quarter of last year, economic growth quickened to 7.9 percent year on year on government pro-growth measures, ending a seven-straight-quarter slowdown.