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Arguments - Prediction Error

We face a paradox in trying to predict urbanization trends in China. On the one hand, there are serious data problems that make it almost impossible to generate a precise statistical description of the urbanization levels and trends. On the other hand, most experts are quite confident that urbanization will increase significantly despite the government's strict measures to control internal migration. Powerful economic driving forces can be identified that will likely trigger a massive wave of rural-urban migration. It is estimated that by 2050 up to 800 million people will live in urban areas. Huge urban agglomerates will emerge along the coastal areas of China.

Description of the Problem
To assess the prediction error of urbanization, we need to analyze two questions:
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) Future trends: What is the range of predictions for China's urbanization?
WB00860_.gif (262 bytes) Causes: What is driving China's future urbanization despite strict government controls?
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Future trends Tables & Charts
In the next few decades, urban population will increase significantly as China faces a massive wave of rural-urban migration. The State Statistical Bureau has estimated that China's total urban population will increase from 28% of the total population in 1995 to 50% in 2010. Some projections assume that by 2030 up to 1 billion people will live in China's urban areas. Even rather conservative projections predict an urban population of up to 800 million people. In its most recent assessment, the UN Population Division estimated an urban population of 1 billion in 2050 - two-thirds of the total population projected for that year. However, other researchers have predicted an urban population of "only" between 500 and 900 million by 2020 (see Table C2_2). Recent UN population projections of the population for the 51 largest cities and urban agglomerations in China estimate that within 20 years the combined population of these cities will increase to about 220 million from 134 million in 1995. Shanghai’s population, for instance, is projected to increase to 23 million by 2015—mainly due to rural-urban migration; Beijing’s population is expected to increase to 19 million, and Tianjin’s to nearly 17 million (United Nations 1995). Various Projections of China's Urban Population
In the future, two factors will drive urbanization in China despite the government's intentions to control mobility: the huge "excess population" in agriculture and the growing labor demand of urban industrial and service sectors.
First, there is a huge demand for low-wage labor in China’s cities and urban areas due to rapid industrialization. Many construction companies hire unskilled workers directly in rural areas. The booming towns and cities also offer numerous opportunities for starting small private businesses - from selling hand-made household items to running food stalls or street restaurants. Jobs and business opportunities, however, are not the only attractions of towns and cities. Cities provide better facilities for education, health care, and entertainment than the villages. Only strict control of mobility has so far prevented many young and energetic people from migrating to urban areas. Without these controls, a tidal wave of migrants would seek out urban opportunities.
Second, the large reservoir of rural unemployment is likely to increase significantly in the next decades. It is estimated that China has an excess rural population of up to 200 million people who cannot be employed in the modernizing agricultural sector. As noted above, China’s population is expected to grow by about 260 million between 1995 and 2050. Most of this growth will take place in rural areas, because urban fertility is already very low. However, it is unlikely that the rural population increase can be fully absorbed in the countryside. There is already hidden rural unemployment, and the mechanization and modernization of agriculture will further reduce labor demand. Since 1978, agricultural machinery available to farmers has increased in value by a factor of 10 and nitrogen fertilizer input has grown 12-fold. The size of the agricultural labor force will probably level off or even decline as China moves toward modern agricultural production methods (Rempel 1996). Population growth and stagnating agricultural labor demand will probably generate a large excess rural population. According to official Chinese estimates, the country may have some 100 million idle farmers (Li Huiming 1994). Other Chinese experts estimate that the surplus of rural labor is in the range of 150 million and could increase to 190 million by the year 2000 (Zhenghua et al., 1995).
Related Arguments

Urbanization:   Trends     Impact    Data Quality    Prediction Error    Intervention Possibilities    Intervention Costs