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China’s population is shrinking for the first time since 1961, underscoring the demographic crisis

China’s population is shrinking for the first time since 1961, underscoring the demographic crisis

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BEIJING/HONG KONG, Jan 17 (Reuters) – China’s population shrank last year for the first time in six decades, a historic reversal that is expected to mark the start of a long period of population decline with deep implications for the economy and the world.

The decline, the worst since 1961, the last year of China’s Great Famine, also adds weight to predictions that India will become the world’s most populous nation this year.

China’s population shrank by an estimated 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 project China’s population to shrink by 109 million by 2050, more than triple the decline in their previous forecast in 2019.

That has led local demographers to complain that China will grow old before it gets rich, slowing the economy as revenues fall and government debt rises due to soaring health and welfare costs.

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

He added that the country’s shrinking labor force and falling output will further exacerbate high prices and high inflation in the United States and Europe.

Kang Yi, head of the National Bureau of Statistics, told reporters that people should not worry about the population decline because “the total labor supply still exceeds the 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 25 to 35, has fallen by about 4 million, Kang said.

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

IMPACT OF THE ONE CHILD POLICY

Much of the demographic decline is the result of China’s one-child policy imposed between 1980 and 2015, as well as the extremely high cost of education, which prevented many Chinese from having more than one child, or even having any at all.

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

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

China’s strict zero-tolerance policies against COVID, which have been in place for three years, have caused additional damage about the country’s demographic prospects, population experts said.

Local governments are introduced from 2021 measures to encourage people to have more babies, including tax breaks, longer maternity leave and housing subsidies. President Xi Jinping also said in October that the government would introduce additional supportive policies.

However, the measures so far have not been able to stop the long-term trend.

Online searches for baby strollers on China’s Baidu search engine fell 17% in 2022 and are down 41% since 2018, while searches for baby bottles have fallen by more than a third since 2018. In contrast , searches for nursing homes have increased eightfold in the past year.

The opposite is happening in India, where Google Trends shows a 15% annual increase in searches for baby bottles in 2022, while searches for cribs have increased almost fivefold.

Reuters Graphics

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: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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