China’s population fell for the first time in more than 60 years

That’s unheard of for six decades: China, the world’s most populous country with 1.4 billion people, or one-sixth of the planet’s population, is experiencing population decline in 2022.

In 2021, the number of births will be only 9.56 million in mainland China, announced Tuesday, January 17, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). At the same time, 10.41 million deaths were recorded. The combination of these two phenomena resulted in a population decline of 850,000 people.

This fall promises to be long-lasting, perhaps into the end of the century, according to demographers, which will profoundly affect the economy and the pension system. India must oust China this year as the country with the most population, the United Nations (UN) has announced.

Also read: Historically low birth rate in China

Paradoxical decline

This was the first since 1960-1961, when the famine, which started in 1959, caused tens of millions of deaths following the erroneous “great leap forward” economic policy. Then the population grew rapidly, doubling since the 1960s, to exceed today’s 1.4 billion.

Paradoxically, this decline occurred despite the relaxation of family planning policies in recent years. Ten years ago, Chinese people were only allowed to have one child. Since 2021, they can have three.

This decline can be explained by the increasing cost of living in China, as well as the education of a child. The higher the level of education of women also delays pregnancy.

“There is also the custom of having small families now, due to the decades-long one-child policy”, to Agence France-Presse (AFP) Xiujian Peng, a researcher specializing in Chinese demography at the University of Victoria (Australia). The desire to have children is also less strong among the younger generation.

Independent demographer He Yafu also points to AFP “decreasing number of women of childbearing age, which fell by 5 million per year between 2016 and 2021”.

Also read China allows families to have three children

Crashing fertility rates

In 2019, the UN still believes that China will not reach its peak population until 2031-2032. Since then, however, the fertility rate has fallen to 1.15 children per woman in 2021, far from the generation update threshold (2.1). In France, it is 1.8 in 2020.

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“Population decline and aging (…) will have a major impact on the Chinese economy, from today to 2100”warned Xiujian Peng. “A decrease in active population is synonymous with higher labor costs” and it “will affect China’s competitiveness in the global market”he pointed out.

According to his team’s projections, without reform of the pension system, pension payments could represent 20% of GDP in 2100 – compared to 4% in 2020. “The pressure on assets to provide care for the elderly will increase”warned He Yafu.

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Many local authorities have launched measures to encourage pairs to breed. The metropolis of Shenzhen (south) has been offering birth bonuses and benefits until the child turns 3 for several days. Couples welcoming their first baby will receive 3,000 yuan (410 euros); 10,000 yuan (1,370 euros) for the third. In total, a family with three children will receive 37,500 yuan (5,150 euros) in bonuses and allowances.

Shandong province, in the east of the country, offers 158 days of maternity leave (60 days more than the national standard), from first child. The metropolis of Changsha (centre), which limits home purchases to curb speculation, is allowing couples with two or three children to buy additional apartments.

“Recreating the real culture of birth rate”

But no one is saying that these steps will be enough to revive procreation. “Above all, we must [que le gouvernement] clearly confirms that there are no more limits to births, to recreate the culture of true birth rates”He Yafu said. “A comprehensive set of actions covering childbirth, parenthood and care is needed to reduce the cost of raising children”believed on his part Xiujian Peng.

Also read Articles are provided for our customers “Does the accelerating aging of its population threaten China’s future place on the international scene? »

China’s population may decline annually by an average of 1.1%, according to a study by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, whose data was submitted to AFP. China may only have 587 million inhabitants in 2100, less than half today, according to the most pessimistic projections of these demographers.

World with AFP

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