China faces a demographic crisis as it has recorded a population decline for the first time in six decades, a historic turn that is an indication of the start of a long period of China’s decline in its population numbers with implications for its economy and the world.
The government said Tuesday that 9.56 million people were born in China in 2022, while 10.4 million people died. This was the first time deaths had outnumbered births in China since the early 1960s. The drop, the worst since 1961, the last year of China’s Great Famine, also attests to predictions that India will become the world’s most populous nation this year.
The country’s National Bureau of Statistics said that China’s population declined by roughly 850,000 to 1.41175 billion at the end of 2022. The birth rate has declined to 6.77 births per 1000 persons from a rate of 7.52 births per 1000 persons in 2021, marking the lowest birth rate on record.
The death rate is the highest since 1974 during the Cultural Revolution, which was 7.37 deaths per 1,000 people, compares with a rate of 7.18 deaths in 2021.
Long-term, U.N. experts expect China’s population to shrink by 109 million by 2050, which is more than triple the decline of their previous forecast in 2019.
One-Child Policy & other factors
This demographic downturn is mostly the result of China’s one-child policy imposed between 1980 and 2015 as well as soaring education costs that have put many Chinese to having either one child or not having any at all.
According to Reuters, the data was the top 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.
One netizen with the username Joyful Ned was quoted saying “The fundamental reason why women do not want to have children lies not in themselves, but in the failure of society and men to take up the responsibility of raising children. For women who give birth, this leads to a serious decline in their quality of life and spiritual life.”
China’s stringent zero-COVID policy involving mass testing, multiple quarantines, and lockdowns which were in place for three years has caused further damage to the country’s demographic outlook, population experts have said. Other reasons for reluctance to have more children include the burden that many younger adults face in taking care of ageing parents and grandparents.
Local governments have since 2021 rolled out measures to reverse their one-child policy to encourage people to have more babies, by providing incentives like tax deductions, cash handouts, longer maternity leave and housing subsidies. President Xi Jinping also said in October the government would enact further supportive policies but in reality, the trend of declining birth seems an irreversible trend.
Measures taken so far, however, have done little to arrest the long-term trend.
Online searches for baby strollers on China’s Baidu search engine dropped 17% in 2022 and are down 41% since 2018, while searches for baby bottles are down more than a third since 2018. Meanwhile, searches for elderly care homes have increased eight-fold last year.
Implications of Declining Demographics
China’s demographic crisis increases as its demographic window slowly and steadily shut down. It has caused domestic demographers to lament that China will get old before it gets rich, slowing the economy as revenues drop and government debt increases due to soaring health and welfare costs. China which has emerged as the World’s factory and an economic powerhouse face the possibility of labour shortages, which will also reduce tax revenues and contributions to a pension system that is already under enormous pressure.
“China’s demographic and economic outlook is much bleaker than expected. China will have to adjust its social, economic, defence and foreign policies,” said demographer Yi Fuxian.
He added that the country’s shrinking labour force and a downturn in manufacturing heft would further exacerbate high prices and high inflation in the United States and Europe, indicating the widespread ramifications.
According to the National Statistics Bureau, people should not worry about the decline in population as “overall labour supply still exceeds demand”.
The trend of china’s population decline has global ramifications as India’s population is poised to surpass China’s this year, according to a recent estimate from United Nations.
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