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China’s population falls for the first time since 1961, highlights demographic crisis

BEIJING/HONG KONG, Jan 17 (Reuters) – China’s population fell 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 the number of its citizens with profound implications for its economy and the world.

The drop, the worst since 1961, the last year of the Great Chinese Famine, also lends weight to 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 long term, UN experts see China’s population shrinking by 109 million by 2050, more than triple the decline of their previous forecasts in 2019.

This has led domestic demographers to lament that China is getting older before it gets richer, slowing the economy as incomes fall and public debt rises due to soaring health and welfare costs.

“China’s demographic and economic outlook is much bleaker than expected. China will need to adjust its social, economic, defense and foreign policies,” said demographer Yi Fuxian.

He added that the country’s shrinking labor force and slowing manufacturing weight would further 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 because “the overall supply of labor always exceeds demand”.

China’s birth rate last year was just 6.77 births per 1,000 people, down from 7.52 births in 2021 and marking the lowest birth rate on record.

The number of Chinese women of childbearing age, which the government defines as ages 25 to 35, fell by about 4 million, Kang said.

The death rate, the highest since 1974 during the Cultural Revolution, was 7.37 deaths per 1,000 population, compared to a rate of 7.18 deaths in 2021.

IMPACT OF THE ONE CHILD POLICY

Much of the population slowdown is the result of China’s one-child policy imposed between 1980 and 2015 as well as exorbitant education costs that have deterred many Chinese from having more than one child or even having one. have none.

Data was the top trending topic on Chinese social media after the figures were released on Tuesday. A hashtag, “#Is it really important to have offspring?” had hundreds of millions of visits.

“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 responsibility for raising children. For women who give birth, this leads to a severe decline in their quality of life and spiritual life,” posted a netizen with the username Joyful Ned.

China’s strict zero-COVID policies that had been in place for three years have caused further damage to the country’s demographic outlook, population experts have said.

Local governments have since 2021 rolled out measures to encourage people to have more babies, including tax deductions, longer maternity leave and housing subsidies. President Xi Jinping also said in October that the government would adopt new supportive policies.

However, the actions taken so far have done little to halt the long-term trend.

Online searches for strollers on Chinese search engine Baidu have fallen 17% in 2022 and 41% since 2018, while searches for baby bottles have fallen by more than a third since 2018. In contrast, searches for nursing homes increased eightfold last time. 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 almost quintupled.

Reuters Charts

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

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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