Most Chinese Are Now Urban Dwellers

For the first time in its history, China now has a population that is predominately urban. The Wall Street Journal reports:

The historic milestone spotlights a trend that China’s government says will be a key driver of economic growth over the next two decades as hundreds of millions more people move into urban areas in search of higher-paying jobs.

But it also points to the challenges facing Chinese leaders as mass migration places an increasing strain on urban housing, transport and welfare, while fueling pollution, social unrest and demands for political reform.

Urban dwellers account for 51.27% of China’s entire population of nearly 1.35 billion—or a total of 690.8 million people—the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) announced at a news conference in Beijing on Tuesday.

City dwellers represented just 10.6% of China’s population in 1949, when the Communist Party took power, and just under 19% in 1979, when it launched the market reforms, according to official Chinese statistics.

Reuters looks at what this means for the global labor market, which has largely relied on a seemingly endless supply of cheap labor from China’s rural population:

Factories along the Pearl River Delta boomed in the same period as hundreds of millions headed to cities in search of jobs, helping to keep costs low. But an expert on development in the delta said workers are now increasingly demanding higher wages and better terms as urban property and living costs soar.

“It’s a clear signal to all investors — China’s cheap labour is fading into the past and will never be back,” said Cheng Jiansan, a professor with the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences, the top think-tank in China’s export hub.

“As far as I know, many plants here are relocating to places like Vietnam and Cambodia — simply for cheap labour.”

January 17, 2012 11:45 AM
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