China's population drops for first time since 1961, highlights demographic crisis

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BEIJING/HONG KONG, Jan 17 (Reuters) – China’s population fell last year for the first time in six decades, a historic turning point that is expected to mark the beginning of a long period of decline in the number of citizens with profound implications for its economy. It’s the world.

The slump, the worst since 1961, the final year of China’s Great Famine, also bolsters forecasts that India will become the world’s most populous nation this year.

China’s population declined by about 850,000 to 1.41175 billion at the end of 2022, the country’s National Bureau of Statistics said.

In the longer term, UN experts see China’s population shrinking by 109 million by 2050, more than triple the decline from their previous forecast in 2019.

This has left demographers at home lamenting that China will age before it gets rich, slowing the economy as revenues fall and government debt rises due to rising health and welfare costs.

“China’s demographic and economic outlook is 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 workforce and slowing manufacturing burden would further exacerbate high prices and high inflation in the US and Europe.

Kang Yi, head of the national statistics bureau, told reporters that people should not worry about the population decline as “the general supply of labor 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 dropped 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 with a rate of 7.18 deaths in 2021.


Much of the demographic crisis is a result of China’s one-child policy enforced between 1980 and 2015, as well as the high costs of education that kept many Chinese from having more than one child or none at all.

The data was the main trending topic on Chinese social media after the figures were released on Tuesday. A hashtag, “#Is it really important to have kids?” had hundreds of millions of hits.

“The fundamental reason why women don’t want to have children is not in themselves, but in the failure of society and men to take responsibility for raising children. For women who give birth, this leads to a serious decline in your quality of life and spiritual life,” posted an Internet user with the username Joyful Ned.

China’s stringent zero-COVID policies, in place for three years, have done further damage to the country’s demographic prospects, population experts said.

Since 2021, local governments have rolled out measures to encourage people to have more babies, including tax deductions, longer maternity leave and housing subsidies. President Xi Jinping also said in October that the government would pursue other supportive policies.

Measures so far, however, have done little to stop the long-term trend.

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

The reverse is happening in India, where Google Trends shows a 15% year-over-year increase in searches for baby bottles in 2022, while searches for cribs are up nearly fivefold.

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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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