China’s population will begin to decline in 2022, the first time in six decades, the latest milestone in a deepening demographic crisis for the world’s second-largest economy.
The country had 1.41 billion people at the end of last year, down 850,000 from the end of 2021, according to data released Tuesday by the National Bureau of Statistics.
It marked the first decline since 1961, the last year of the Great Famine under former leader Mao Zedong, and coincided with figures showing China’s economy grew at a brisk pace last year. second slowest since the 1970s.
Some 9.56 million babies will be born in 2022, down from 10.62 million a year earlier, the lowest level since at least 1950, despite government efforts to encourage family has more children.
A total of 10.41 million people have died, a slight increase from about 10 million recorded in recent years. China has suffered a spike in Covid-related deaths since last month after abruptly abandoning its zero-tolerance approach to the virus in early December.
More Covid-related deaths are likely to occur this year as deaths often lag behind infections by several weeks and infections continue to spread across the country. This epidemic may increase the number of deaths this year.
China’s population shrank last year as the birth rate fell again and the death rate continued to rise as the country ages.
According to Kang Yi, head of the National Bureau of Statistics, the decline in the number of newborns is the main cause of the population decline.
“This is mainly due to people’s declining need to have children, delayed marriages and pregnancies, as well as the decreasing number of women of childbearing age,” Kang told reporters. after Tuesday’s press conference.
Kang said the decline – at the start of a new trend – “isn’t something to be overly worried about”. The country’s labor supply is always larger than the demand, he added.
“The population is likely to decline from here in the coming years,” said Zhang Zhiwei, president and chief economist of Pinpoint Asset Management Ltd.
“This is very important, with implications for potential growth and domestic demand.”
The population decline has come much faster than expected and could dampen economic growth by slowing demand for goods like new homes.
Due to the slowdown, China’s economy may find it difficult to grow faster than the size of the United States and the country could lose its status as the world’s most populous country to India this year.
Most recently in 2019, the United Nations predicted that China’s population would peak in 2031 and then decline, but last year the UN revised that estimate to peak in early 2022.
The workforce has been shrinking for a long time – future demand for housing is likely to fall further, and the government may also find it difficult to pay for the undercapitalized national pension system.
The country is following in the footsteps of other East Asian countries such as Japan or South Korea, which have seen their birth rates plummet and their populations age and begin to shrink as they get richer. have more and develop.
China’s birth rate, or births per 1,000 people, fell to 6.77 last year, its lowest level since at least 1978.
Data released by the National Bureau of Statistics shows that 62% of the population is of working age, which China defines as those between the ages of 16 and 59, compared with about 70% a decade ago, working highlights the challenges the country faces as its population ages.