First population decline in China since 1961

With a record-low national birth rate of 6.77 births per 1,000 people, China’s population has decreased for the first time in 60 years.

The population decreased by 850,000 from 2021 to 2022, reaching 1.4118 billion.

Years of dropping birth rates in China have prompted a plethora of programs to attempt and reverse the trend.

However, it has entered what one official called a “period of negative population growth” seven years after abandoning the one-child policy.

According to data issued on Tuesday by China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the birth rate fell to 7.22 in 2022 from 7.52 in 2021.

In contrast, the United States and the United Kingdom both had 10.08 births per 1,000 inhabitants in 2021. India, which is on track to surpass China as the world’s most populated nation, had a birth rate of 16.42 for the same year.

For the first time ever, deaths also exceeded births in China last year. The nation had 7.37 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants, up from 7.18 the year before, which was the highest mortality rate recorded since 1976.

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An impending demographic catastrophe, which would eventually reduce China’s labor force and raise the cost of healthcare and other social security benefits, had been predicted by earlier government data.

China’s population was expanding at its slowest rate in decades, according to results of an every ten years census that were revealed in 2021. Other East Asian nations like Japan and South Korea are also experiencing population decline and aging populations.

Yue Su, lead economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit, predicts that this trend will continue and possibly get worse after Covid. Ms. Su is one of many analysts who predict that China’s population will continue to decline through 2023.

She continued, “The high youth unemployment rate and deficiencies in income expectations could postpone marriage and birthing plans even further, lowering the number of newborns.”

And because of Covid infections, she added, the mortality rate in 2023 is probably going to be higher than it was before the epidemic. Since giving up its zero-Covid policy last month, China has witnessed an increase in instances.

The contentious one-child policy, which was implemented in 1979 in an effort to restrict population growth, has played a significant role in shaping China’s demographic trends over time. Families that disobeyed the regulations paid fines and in some cases even lost their jobs. The strategy had also resulted in forced abortions and a reportedly skewed gender ratio beginning in the 1980s, in a society where boys have traditionally been preferred over girls.

In 2016, the rule was changed to allow married couples to have two children. The Chinese government has recently provided additional incentives, like as tax breaks and improved maternal healthcare, in an effort to stop or at least moderate the decline in the birthrate.

However, there was no persistent rise in births as a result of these efforts. According to some analysts, this is because policies that promoted parenthood did not include measures to lessen the strain of childcare, such as more support for working women or increased access to education.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called increasing birth rates a top priority in October 2022. In response to the aging population of the nation, Mr. Xi declared at the once every five years Communist Party Congress in Beijing that his administration will “pursue a proactive national policy.”

In addition to providing incentives for having children, Bussarawan Teerawichitchainan, director of the National University of Singapore’s Centre for Family and Population Research, suggested that China should enhance gender equality in homes and workplaces.

Scandinavian nations have demonstrated how such actions might raise reproduction rates, she continued.

Paul Cheung, a former head statistician for Singapore, claims that China has “enough of staff” and “a lot of lead time” to handle the demographic crisis.

They are not immediately in a doomsday situation, he said.

Increasing birth rates alone, according to observers, won’t fix the issues causing China’s declining growth.

According to Stuart Gietel-Basten, a professor of public policy at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, increasing fertility won’t raise productivity or domestic consumption over the long run.

More important will be how China handles these structural problems.

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