It’s a statistic so mind-blowing that it has many scratching their heads – but China did in fact, use more cement between 2011 and 2013 than the U.S. did in the last 100 years. The statistic seems incredible, but according to government and industry sources, it appears accurate.
So how did China use so much cement? First, the country is urbanizing at a historic rate, much faster than the U.S. did in the 20th Century. China's cities have been transformed to make room for this influx of people. By some estimates, half of China’s infrastructure has been built since 2000, with new rail networks, interstates, dams, airports, and high-rise apartment buildings springing up across the country.
Beyond China's incredible urbanization, there are a few more facts that make the cement stat even more believable. As Goldman Sachs pointed out in a note, China’s population today is only about four times as large as the U.S., but it is 15 times as large as the U.S. was in the early 20th Century, and nine times the size of the U.S. in 1950.
The world also experienced a shift in building materials over the 20th Century. In 1950, the world manufactured roughly as much steel as cement; by 2010, steel production had grown by a factor of eight, but cement had gone up by a factor of 25. And where many houses in the U.S. are made of wood, China suffers from a relative lack of lumber. Unlike in the U.S., many people in China live in high- or low-rise buildings made out of cement.
Finally, China's cement industry is much larger than it should be. Many of China's cement manufacturers are state-owned, and they benefit from government support and access to cheap capital.