China’s Population Decline: Is the Country Headed for a Crisis?

COVID cases surge in China
Image Credit: IHOR SULYATYTSKYY/ Shutterstock

Official statistics released from China have shown that the population in the country has fallen for the first time since 1961. According to the data which China’s National Bureau of Statistics released, there are currently 1.4118 billion people living in the country, which is 850,000 people down from 2021. 

COVID cases surge in China
Image Credit: IHOR SULYATYTSKYY/ Shutterstock

There are a couple of reasons for the fall, one of which is a declining birth rate. The national birth in China has now sunk to an all-time low, with an average of 6.77 births per 1000 people. 

Between 1980 and 2015, the Chinese government issued a one-child policy for all couples. Although this policy has been non-existent for eight years, these statistics are evidence that its impact of it is still being felt across the country. Officials are now saying that they are in an ‘era of negative population growth.’

While 6.77 births per 1000 people may not seem low, it’s significantly lower than other large countries worldwide. For example, in the USA, the average is 11.06 births per 1000 people, while in India, it is as high as 16.42. Interestingly, India is now set to overtake China as the world’s most populous country. 

Another reason for the population decline is the Covid pandemic which started in China. They have been ravaged by the disease ever since, and it has recently swept across the nation. 

As a result, deaths are outnumbering births in China for the first time in history. The death rate currently stands at 7.37 per 1000 people, up from 7.18 in 2021.

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A Trend That Is Set To Continue

With Covid continuing to take lives and people having fewer children, it seems as if this downward trend will continue for many years to come. 

The warning signs were there in 2021 when results from a once-in-a-decade census showed that China’s population was growing at its slowest rate in decades. The issue appears similar across other East Asian countries as population growth has also started to trend negatively in Japan and South Korea.

An expert in economics and statistics, Yue Sue, has said that he believes the trend isn’t going to be reversed anytime soon:

“This trend is going to continue and perhaps worsen after Covid. The high youth employment rate and weaknesses in income expectations could delay marriage and childbirth plans further, dragging down the number of newborns. The death rate is also likely higher than it was pre-pandemic due to Covid infections.”

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An Ironic Turn of Events

Considering Chinese officials spent much of the 1980s and 90s handing out fines to couples with more than one child and even causing them to get fired from their jobs, the situation is undoubtedly ironic. 

In recent years, the government has done a complete u-turn and has started handing out incentives instead of punishments for couples who were having children. These included tax breaks and better maternal healthcare as officials became desperate to avoid the situation they now find themselves in.

Clearly, these policies have yet to do anything to increase birth rates. Instead, some experts have suggested that the incentives didn’t do enough to ease the burden of childcare for working mothers. 

Last year, Chinese President XI said that boosting birth rates was a priority as the population continued to age. As he enters 2023, it will undoubtedly continue to be one of the most important issues he has to tackle while in office. 

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