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China’s population records second straight annual decline

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China’s population declined in 2023 for the second consecutive year, weighing on the long-term growth prospects of the world’s second-largest economy as the workforce shrinks.

Ongoing efforts to ease residential registration procedures and encourage families to have more children have not spurred population growth, the numbers show.

The total population fell by about 2.08 million to 1.409 billion at the end of 2023, the National Statistics Office said. The fall was steeper than the 850,000 recorded in 2022, the first drop since 1961, when the country went through the Great Famine under then leader Mao Zedong.

ECONOMY

China’s population records second straight annual decline

Pace accelerates as dwindling workforce creates vexing policy challenges

Experts say China’s population peaked in 2021.   © AP

SHANGHAI — China’s population declined in 2023 for the second consecutive year, weighing on the long-term growth prospects of the world’s second-largest economy as the workforce shrinks.

Ongoing efforts to ease residential registration procedures and encourage families to have more children have not spurred population growth, the numbers show.

The total population fell by about 2.08 million to 1.409 billion at the end of 2023, the National Statistics Office said. The fall was steeper than the 850,000 recorded in 2022, the first drop since 1961, when the country went through the Great Famine under then leader Mao Zedong.

The birth rate in 2023 was 6.39 per 1,000 people, renewing a record low after 6.77 births per 1,000 people were recorded in 2022.

China’s death rate, meanwhile, came to 7.87 per 1,000 people, following the lifting of COVID restrictions in late 2022. This is up from 7.37 deaths in 1,000 in 2022. Though the government has not released the number of deaths linked to the COVID policy change, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in the U.S. estimated there were 1.87 million deaths between December 2022 and January 2023 alone.

“[It] remains unclear to what extent the official data release has faithfully captured China’s COVID deaths, given the overall optimistic tone this official report is trying to project,” Yun Zhou, a China demographer at University of Michigan, told Nikkei Asia.

Cai Fang, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a state think tank, described the population decline as the “new normal,” saying that the number peaked in 2021.

“Declining labor supply and productivity, coupled with increased health care and social spending could lead to a wider fiscal deficit and a higher debt burden for China in the long term,” ratings agency Moody’s said in a report last year.

India overtook China as the world’s most populous country at the end of April last year with 1.425 billion people, according to the United Nations. The U.N. projected that the Chinese population could drop below 1 billion before the end of the century as fertility fell to 1.2 births per woman in 2022. That placed China among countries with the world’s lowest fertility rates. A rate of 2.1 births per woman is needed to keep a population stable.

China in 2021 relaxed its two-children-per-family policy to allow couples to have three. Until 2015, the country maintained a controversial policy that limited couples to each having only one child to curb population growth.

In recent years, municipal authorities have eased household registration rules to encourage migration from rural areas. These were aimed at young people, to encourage them to settle down in urban areas to boost the economy.

Challenges remain despite these moves, Michigan University’s Zhou stressed, as China’s falling birthrate trajectory is consistent with other low-fertility countries such as Japan. “[The] path to fertility recovery is a long, hard road, if there is one,” the demographer added.

In October, President Xi Jinping urged more efforts to encourage women to contribute to nation building. He stressed the need for guidance to adjust young people’s perspectives on marriage, childbearing and family, alongside supportive birth and aging population policies.

While the latest data has not been revealed, marriage registration fell for nine consecutive years to 6.833 million pairs in 2022, according to Yuwa Population Research. That was roughly half the number a decade earlier. The reasons cited include a gender imbalance, couples delaying marriage, housing affordability and uncertainties over the country’s economic prospects. (Foreign Agencies)

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