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China’s population shrinks for the first time in decades

HONG KONG- China said on Tuesday that its population shrank last year for the first time in six decades, a historic change with profound implications for the world’s second-largest economy.

National Bureau of Statistics officials said mainland China had 1.41175 billion people at the end of 2022, down from 1.41260 billion a year earlier, a drop of 850,000. There were a total of 9, 56 million births – a record birth rate of 6.77 per thousand – and 10.41 million deaths.

The announcement was part of a broader release of economic data for 2022, a year when the president Xi Jinpingis strict “Zero Covid” policies weighed heavily on growth. Officials reported a 3% increase in gross domestic productexceeding expectations but remaining one of the lowest numbers in decades.

The economy is expected to improve in 2023 as China emerges from pandemic isolation, Kang Yi, director of the National Bureau of Statistics, told a press conference in Beijing. He also said China’s declining population was not a concern and the overall supply of labor still exceeded demand.

The number of births in China was declining for ten years, undermining the ruling Communist Party’s consumption-driven growth model and raising the question of whether China can overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy. The UN said India will overtake China as the world’s most populous nation later this year.

The 9.56 million births in China represent a drop of nearly 10% from 2021, when an estimated 10.6 million babies were born. The death rate of 7.37 per 1,000 population was up from 7.18 in 2021, when China recorded 10.14 million deaths.

As in other countries, declining births mean an aging workforce for China, which has built its economic power largely on a manufacturing sector dependent on cheap labor. Officials said on Tuesday that working-age people between the ages of 16 and 59 made up 62% of the national population – up from around 70% a decade ago – while people aged 60 and over made up nearly 20%.

One of the main reasons for China’s declining population is the rise of the middle class, said Kent Deng, professor of economic history at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“Once you have well-skilled, well-educated city dwellers, they will decide not to have many children,” he said, especially given the rising cost of living in China.

Covid is also thought to have played a part, although China appears to have seen the vast majority of its cases and deaths in recent months. After international criticism that he was not transparent about the the severity of its current outbreakChina said this weekend that it had recorded nearly 60,000 Covid-related deaths since early December, when he abruptly ended three years of anti-Covid measures after rare mass demonstrations. Experts say the true death toll could reach 1 million or more in the coming months.

The total number of deaths from all causes in China in December is not yet known, Kang said, and is not reflected in the 2022 population statistics.

The figures announced on Tuesday mark the start of what is expected to be a long decline in China’s population, which the UN says could hit 800 million by the end of the century. The US population, on the other hand, is expected to grow from its current 337 million, mainly through immigration.

The overall world population reached 8 billion in Novemberaccording to the UN

Although many countries around the world are experiencing population decline, this is the first time that China’s population has shrunk since 1961, after a three-year famine caused by Mao Zedong’s industrialization campaign, which is believed to have killed dozens of millions of people. .

The country then experienced explosive growth during the second half of the 20th century, with its population more than doubling. Fearing that overcrowding could harm development, Chinese authorities introduced a number of reproductive restrictions centering on the “one-child policy”, which was in effect from 1980 to 2015.

While the one-child policy has been effective in curbing population growth, critics say it has led to rights abuses and a disproportionate number of men over women, especially in the countryside. It also fundamentally changed Chinese ideas about family size, Deng said, as parents realized they could achieve upward social mobility by investing more in a single child’s education.

“They can see the result because they can send their children to the best schools and then to the best universities,” he said.

Chinese officials anticipated the demographic crisis, allowing couples to have two children since 2016 and up to three children since 2021. A national policy document released last year encouraged employers to provide childcare and flexible work arrangements and local governments to offer preferential housing and other incentives. Xi promised additional measures to raise the birth rate to one party congress in october.

But the public has largely answered with indifference. A study published last year by the YuWa Population Research Institute, a Beijing-based think tank, found that Chinese people’s desire to have children was among the lowest in the world.

The best way to reverse the trend, Deng said, is to provide child benefits of the kind offered by some governments in Europe.

“You need a lot of resources to convince young Chinese people that it really pays to have a second child,” he said.

The relative lack of support makes motherhood particularly unattractive to young urban women like Beijing resident Nora Yang, who said she was “80%” against having children of her own.

“The work environment is really unfriendly to mothers,” Yang, 24, said. “Once they have a baby, it’s really hard to make more progress in their careers.”

Yang agreed with Deng that the government was not doing enough to change her mind.

If Chinese officials really want to encourage children, they should “give money to those who have more babies,” she said. “Otherwise they will fail.”

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