China has entered an “era of negative population growth” after figures revealed a historic drop in the number of people for the first time since 1961.
The country had 1.41175 billion people at the end of 2022, down from 1.41260 billion a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Tuesday, a drop of 850,000. It marked the beginning of a long period of population decline, despite major government efforts to reverse the trend.
Speaking on the eve of the data release, Cai Fang, vice chairman of the National People’s Congress Committee on Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said China’s population had reached its peak in 2022, much earlier than expected. “Experts in the fields of population and economics have predicted that by 2022 or no later than 2023, my country will enter an era of negative population growth,” Cai said.
The Chinese government has been trying for several years to encourage people to have more children and prevent a demographic crisis caused by an aging population. New policies have sought to ease the financial and social burden of child rearing or to actively promote childbearing through subsidies and tax breaks. Some provinces or cities have announced cash payments to parents with second or third children. Last week, the city of Shenzhen announced financial incentives totaling 37,500 yuan ($5,550) for a family with three children.
Yet after decades of the one-child policy, which punitively encouraged multiple children, and the rising costs of modern living, resistance among couples remains.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Kang Yi, head of the National Bureau of Statistics, said China’s overall labor supply still exceeds demand and people should not worry about population decline.
China is on track to overtake India as the world’s most populous country.
The birth rate last year was 6.77 births per 1,000 people, down from 7.52 in 2021, the lowest birth rate on record. In real terms, 2022 saw more than a million fewer births than last year’s total of 10.62 million.
The country also recorded its highest death rate since 1976, recording 7.37 deaths per 1,000 people, compared to 7.18 deaths in 2021.
Cai said China’s social policies need to be adjusted, including care for the elderly and pensions, a national financial burden that will further worsen and affect China’s economic growth.
Some Chinese online were not surprised by the announcement, saying the social pressures that contributed to the low birth rate still persisted.
“Housing prices, well-being, education, healthcare. reasons why people can’t afford to have children,” said one Weibo commenter.
“Now who dares to have a child, housing prices are so expensive, nobody wants to get married, even fall in love, let alone have a child,” said another.
“Not talking about increasing social security, only talking about increasing the birth rate, it’s all just stupid.”
On Tuesday, China’s government also announced GDP growth of 3% in 2022. That figure would mark one of the slowest periods of growth in decades, but was still higher than forecast, prompting some skepticism among analysts given the incredibly tight zero-Covid restrictions. place during the fourth quarter.
China’s strict zero-Covid policy, which was in place three years ago before a dramatic turnaround that overwhelmed medical facilities, has further damaged the country’s bleak demographic outlook, population experts say.
Yi Fuxiang, a research fellow in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an expert on China’s population changes, said the population decline occurred nearly a decade earlier than the country’s government and the United Nations had predicted.
“It means that China’s real demographic crisis is beyond imagination and that China’s past economic, social, defense and foreign policies are based on wrong demographics,” Yi wrote on Twitter.
“China’s demographic and economic outlook is much bleaker than expected. China must undergo strategic downsizing and adjust its social, economic, defense and foreign policies. China will improve relations with the West.”