China Sees a Startling Demographic Milestone

Population shrinks for the first time in 60 years as young people balk at having children
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 17, 2023 6:29 AM CST
In 60-Year First, China's Population Falls
A family visit the Qianmen pedestrian shopping street, a popular tourist spot in Beijing, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.   (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Abandoning its one-child policy and offering incentives for couples to have children wasn't enough to prevent China's population from shrinking, as it has now done for the first time in 60 years. The government said Tuesday that 10.41 million people died in 2022, while just 9.56 million people were born, meaning the population declined by 850,000 to 1.4118 billion, per the BBC and New York Times. There were just 6.77 births per 1,000 people—compared to 11.06 births per 1,000 people in the US—down from 7.52 in 2021. At the same time, there were 7.37 deaths per 1,000 people, up from 7.18 in 2021, for the highest death rate since 1976.

China is now "being thrust into a demographic crisis that will have consequences not just for China and its economy but for the world," per the Times. One looming concern is the future date "when China will not have enough people of working age to fuel its growth." Last year, the economy grew by only 3% for "one of China's worst annual economic performances in nearly half a century," per the BBC. About 20% of China’s population is now over 60, per CNN, and that figure is expected to increase to 33% by 2035. This will "reduce tax revenue and contributions to a pension system that is already under enormous pressure," per the Times.

Though Chinese President Xi Jinping has made boosting birth rates a priority, the Times describes the trend of negative population growth—also seen in Japan and South Korea—as irreversible since many young people in China don't want children. Births were down for a sixth straight year despite tax breaks and other incentives meant to encourage couples to have children. Young people say rising costs are a factor and that the pandemic made their lives difficult enough. Women are also rejecting traditional roles in childcare, per the Wall Street Journal. (India, which recorded 16.42 births per 1,000 people in 2022, is expected to surpass China as the world's most populous country this year.)

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