China's Missing Children: The 2000 Census Underreporting Surprise

Daniel M. Goodkind, U.S. Census Bureau

We compare the age and sex structure of China's 2000 population census to an estimate of that structure based on a projection from the 1990 census. Based on China's own official estimates of demographic change, we find that about 37 million children were underreported in the 2000 census, over a quarter of all children under age five and an eighth of those between ages five and nine. Counts of adults were otherwise excellent. Sex differences in child underreporting were minor. Child underreporting in China's censuses also occurred in 1982 and 1990, due in part because parental truth telling can lead to fines or punishments under birth restrictions in place since the 1970s. Yet child underreporting rates in 2000 nearly tripled compared to previous censuses. We attribute that increase primarily to policy enhancements beginning in the early 1990s holding officials at all jurisdictional levels personally responsible for enforcing birth quotas.

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Presented in Session 82: Fertility Policies