China’s population is shrinking for the first time in more than 60 years

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China’s population has fallen for the first time in more than 60 years, official data shows – a historic turn for the world’s most populous nation now expected to experience a long period of population decline.

The country of 1.4 billion has seen birth rates plummet to record lows as the workforce ages, a decline that analysts warn could hamper economic growth and add pressure to the country’s strained public finances.

China’s mainland population stood at about 1,411,750,000 at the end of 2022, Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported Tuesday, down 850,000 from the end of the previous year.

The number of births was 9.56 million, according to the NBS, while the number of deaths was 10.41 million. Men also continued to outnumber women in China by 722.06 million to 689.69 million.

The new figures mark the first decline in China’s population since 1961, when the country suffered the worst famine in its modern history, caused by Mao Zedong’s disastrous agricultural policies known as the Great Leap Forward.

China has long been the most populous nation in the world, but is expected to soon be overtaken by India, if it hasn’t already.

According to estimates, India’s population is over 1.4 billion and continues to grow.

NBS head Kang Yi said people should not worry about China’s population decline as the country’s overall labor supply still exceeds demand.

Although China ended its strict “one-child policy” in 2016 and allowed couples to have three children in 2021, the policy change has not reversed the demographic decline.

Long-term experts at the United Nations believe China’s population could decline by 109 million people by 2050, more than three times the decline of their previous 2019 forecast.

‘demographic crisis’

Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu, reporting from Beijing, said China has taken many initiatives to avoid a “demographic crisis,” including abolishing the one-child policy and increasing parental leave and subsidies. However, such attempts seem to have failed.

“If we dig further into the numbers, it says that the birth rate in China was 6.77 births per 1,000 people and the death rate has risen to the highest it has ever been,” she said.

While “health authorities are scratching their heads” wondering why people are having fewer children, Yu said the main reasons appear to be both the rising cost of living in Chinese cities and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think one of the reasons is the rising cost of living here in China, especially in the cities when it comes to housing, when it comes to education, people postpone marriage or choose not to get married or not at all to have children. ,” she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also been a major factor as China has just emerged from a three-year strict “zero COVID” policy that has been associated with “massive uncertainty” and disruption to people’s lives. People chose not to have children or expand their families during that time, Yu said.

The economic effect of a declining population is also a primary concern for China, as the country’s large labor force—nearly 70 percent of people in 2010—has been the engine of the economy’s growth for decades.

“As the working age decreases and the number of elderly people in China grows, that is increasing…Many experts are concerned that this ultimately means that China has failed to get rich before it gets old,” Yu said.

Xiujian Peng, a senior research fellow in the Center of Policy Studies at Australia’s University of Victoria, told Al Jazeera that China’s fertility rate is now much lower than countries like the United States, Australia and “even lower than Japan.”

The Chinese government probably did not expect such a large drop in population numbers, she said, as authorities had already relaxed the one-child policy. The impact of COVID-19 on job insecurity and other factors such as China’s rising cost of living, particularly housing and education, have meant that policies to reverse the drop in fertility have not worked.

Chinese are also getting “used to the small family because of the decades-long one-child policy,” she told Agence France-Presse.

“The Chinese government needs to find effective policies to boost births or else fertility will go even lower,” she said.

“It will have a profound impact on China’s economy from now to 2100.”

Many local authorities in China have already taken steps to encourage couples to have children.

For example, in the city of Shenzhen, the authorities now provide a birth premium and benefits until the child is three years old. A couple having their first baby will automatically receive 3,000 yuan ($444), rising to 10,000 yuan ($1,480) for their third. In the east of the country, the city of Jinan has been paying a monthly allowance of 600 yuan ($89) since January 1 for couples who have a second child.

The new data was the most trending topic on Chinese social media after the figures were released on Tuesday. One hashtag, “#Is it really important to have offspring?” had hundreds of millions of hits.

“The fundamental reason why women do not want children is not in themselves, but in the failure of society and men to take on the responsibility of raising children. For women who give birth, this leads to a serious decline in their quality of life and spiritual life,” posted a netizen with the username Joyful Ned.





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