BEIJING (AP) — China’s Communist Party, the world’s largest political party, said Friday that it has grown even bigger, with the number of members passing 80 million people last year.

Party membership in 2010 swelled to 80.27 million, an increase of more than 2 million from 2009, the party’s deputy minister Wang Qinfeng said at a news conference.

The number of members is almost equal to Germany’s population.

More than just an ideology, membership in the elite Communist Party also means getting ahead and gaining access to China’s ruling class, as well as more attractive career opportunities.

Wang said 21 million people applied to join in 2010 but only about 14 percent were accepted.

Applicants for party membership need recommendations from current members and his or her company or work unit leader showing a strong degree of party loyalty, plus “good behavior.”

They also have to submit essays expressing support for the party.

With its 90th anniversary coming July 1, state media outlets have recently run articles saying the Communist Party is the reason for China’s rapid rise in the world.

Wang said about 24 million party members are farmers, more than 38 percent are women and nearly a quarter are younger than 35.