China’s population decline for the first time since 1961 underscores the demographic crisis
By Albee Zhang and Farah Master
BEIJING/HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s population shrank last year for the first time in six decades, a historic turning point that is expected to mark the start of a long period of decline in population with profound repercussions for the economy and the world.
The decline, the worst since 1961, the last year of China’s Great Depression, also weighs on predictions that India will become the world’s most populous nation this year.
China’s population shrank by about 850,000 to 1.41175 billion at the end of 2022, the country’s National Bureau of Statistics said.
In the longer term, UN experts expect China’s population to shrink by 109 million by 2050, more than triple the decline in their previous projection in 2019.
This has led domestic demographers to complain that China is getting old before it gets rich, slowing the economy as incomes fall and public debt rises due to rising health costs and welfare.
“China’s demographic and economic outlook is much more bleak than expected. China will have to adjust its social, economic, defense and foreign policies,” said demographer Yi Fuxian.
He added that the country’s shrinking workforce and declining production volumes continue to exacerbate high prices and high inflation in the United States and Europe.
Kang Yi, head of the national statistics bureau, told reporters that people should not worry about population decline as “total labor supply still exceeds demand.”
China’s birth rate was just 6.77 births per 1,000 people last year, compared to a rate of 7.52 births in 2021, marking the lowest birth rate on record.
The number of Chinese women of childbearing age, which the government defines as 25 to 35, has fallen by about 4 million, Kang said.
The death rate, the highest since 1974 during the Cultural Revolution, was 7.37 deaths per 1,000 people, compared to a rate of 7.18 deaths in 2021.
EFFECTS OF THE ONE CHILD POLICY
Much of the demographic decline is the result of China’s one-child policy, implemented between 1980 and 2015, and skyrocketing education costs that have discouraged many Chinese. from having more than one child, or even having one.
The data was the top trending topic on Chinese social media after the numbers were released on Tuesday. Hashtag: “#Is it really important to have children?” it had hundreds of millions of hits.
“The main reason why women do not want children is not because of themselves, but because of the failure of society and men to take responsibility for raising children. For women who give birth, this results in a sharp decline in their quality of life and spiritual life,” posted a netizen with the username Joyful Ned.
China’s strict zero-COVID policy, which has been in place for three years, has continued to harm the country’s demographic prospects, population experts said.
Local governments have introduced measures to encourage people to have more babies from 2021, including tax cuts, longer maternity leave and housing benefits. President Xi Jinping also said in October that the government will take more support measures.
However, the measures taken so far have done little to halt the long-term trend.
Online searches for strollers on Chinese search engine Baidu fell 17% in 2022 and are down 41% from 2018, while searches for baby bottles are down by more than a third from 2018. In contrast, the search for nursing homes for the elderly has recently increased by eight times per year.
The opposite is happening in India, where Google Trends shows a 15% year-over-year increase in searches for baby bottles in 2022, while searches for cribs have increased almost fivefold.
(Reporting by Albee Zhang in Beijing and Farah Master in Hong Kong; Additional reporting by Kevin Yao and Ella Cao in Beijing; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)