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China’s population is shrinking. The impact will be felt around the world


hong kong
CNN

China could be on the verge of losing its place as the most populous country in the world to India after its population declined for the first time since the 1960s.

The country’s population fell in 2022 to 1.411 billion, some 850,000 people less than the previous year, China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said at a Tuesday briefing on annual data.

The last time China’s population dwindled was in 1961, during a famine that killed tens of millions of people across the country.

This time, a combination of factors is driving the decline: the far-reaching consequences of China’s one-child policy introduced in the 1980s (but since abandoned); changing attitudes towards marriage and family among young Chinese people; entrenched gender inequality and the challenges of raising children in China’s expensive cities.

Experts warn that if it continues, the trend could also pose a problem for the rest of the world, with China playing a key role in global growth as the second largest economy.

A population decline is likely to exacerbate China’s problems with an aging workforce and stunt growth, adding to its woes as it struggles to recover from the pandemic.

The population decline is partly the result of China’s one-child policy, which for more than 35 years restricted couples to having only one child. Women caught violating the policy were often subject to forced abortions, heavy fines, and deportation.

Alarmed by the falling birth rate in recent years, the government repealed the rule. In 2015 it allowed couples to have two children and in 2021 it increased that to three. But the policy change and other government efforts, such as offering financial incentives, have had little effect – for a variety of reasons.

The high cost of living and education and soaring real estate prices are major factors. Many people – especially in cities – face stagnant wages, reduced job opportunities and grueling working hours that make it both difficult and expensive to raise a child, not to mention three.

These problems are exacerbated by entrenched gender roles that often entrust the bulk of household chores and childcare to women – who, more educated and financially independent than ever, are increasingly unwilling to shoulder this unequal burden. Women also reported facing discrimination at work based on their marital or parental status, with employers often reluctant to pay for maternity leave.

Some cities and provinces have started to introduce measures such as paternity leave and expanded childcare services. But many activists and women say it is far from enough.

And frustrations have only grown during the pandemic, with a disenchanted younger generation whose livelihoods and wellbeing have been derailed by China’s intransigent policies. zero covid policy.

China Three Child Policy ICU McLean pkg intl hnk vpx_00011727.png

Hear parents in China react to the new three-child policy

A decline in population is likely to compound the demographic problems China already faces. The country’s population is already aging and its workforce is shrinking, putting enormous pressure on the younger generation.

China’s elderly now make up nearly a fifth of its population, officials said on Tuesday. Some experts warn that the country could take a similar route to Japanwhich entered three decades of economic stagnation in the early 1990s that coincided with its aging demographics.

“China’s economy is entering a critical transition phase, no longer able to rely on an abundant and competitive labor force to drive industrialization and growth,” said Frederic Neumann, chief Asia economist at HSBC.

“As the supply of workers begins to shrink, productivity growth will need to pick up to keep up with the breakneck pace of expansion in the economy.”

China’s economy is already struggling, growing by only 3% in 2022 – one of the worst performances in nearly half a century, thanks to months of Covid lockdown and a historic slowdown in the property market.

Shrinking labor could make recovery even more difficult as China resumes outbound travel and drops many of the tight restrictions it has maintained in recent years.

There are also social implications. China’s social security system will likely come under strain as there will be fewer workers to fund things like pensions and health care – as demand for these services increases due to an aging population.

There will also be fewer people to care for the elderly, with many young people already working to support their parents and two sets of grandparents.

Elderly population in China

Chinese seniors risk being left behind

Given its leading role in the global economy, China’s challenges could have implications for the rest of the world.

The pandemic has illustrated how China’s domestic problems can affect trade and investment flows, with its shutdowns and border controls disrupting supply chains.

Not only would a slowdown in China’s economy dampen global growth, but it could threaten China’s ambitions to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy.

“China’s limited ability to respond to this demographic shift will likely lead to slower growth over the next twenty to thirty years and impact its ability to compete with the United States on the world stage,” said the Center for Strategic and International Studies, based in the United States. said in a post on its website last August.

China also looks likely to lose its place as the world’s most populous nation this year to India, whose population and economy are booming.

“India is the big winner,” tweeted Yi Fuxian, who studies Chinese demographics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

However, although Yi said India’s economy could one day surpass that of the United States, it still has a long way to go. India is the world’s fifth largest economy, having overtaken the UK last year, and some experts have expressed concern that the country it is not creating enough job opportunities to follow the evolution of its workforce.

Still, some researchers say there could be a silver lining to the news from China.

“For climate change and the environment, a smaller population is a boon, not a curse,” tweeted Mary Gallagher, director of the International Institute at the University of Michigan.

NASA climatologist Peter Kalmus argued that the population decline should not be seen as “a terrible thing”, pointing instead to “the exponential acceleration of global warming and biodiversity loss”.

Chinese authorities have stepped up efforts to encourage larger families, including through a multi-agency plan released last year to strengthen maternity leave and provide tax deductions and other benefits to families.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping pledged in October to “improve the population development strategy” and ease the economic pressure on families.

“[We will] establish a political system to increase birth rates and reduce the costs of pregnancy and childbirth, child rearing and schooling,” Xi said. “We will pursue a proactive national strategy in response to the aging population, expand programs and services for elderly care, and provide better services for seniors who live alone.

Some places even offer cash incentives to encourage more births. A village in southern Guangdong province announced in 2021 that it would pay permanent residents with babies under the age of 2.5 up to $510 per month, which could amount to more than $15,000 in total per month. child. Other places offered housing grants for couples with multiple children.

But those efforts have yet to see results, with many experts and residents saying much more sweeping national reforms are needed. After Tuesday’s news broke, a hashtag went viral on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform: “To encourage childbirth, we must first solve the worries of young people.”

“Our salaries are so low, while the rents are so high and the financial pressure so heavy. My future husband will be working overtime until 3 a.m. every day until the end of the year,” one Weibo user wrote. “My survival and my health are already problems, not to mention having children.”

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