China’s population declines for the first time in six decades

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Jan. 16 (UPI) — China’s population has declined for the first time in six decades, as the world’s second-largest economy announced Tuesday that more people died last year than were born.

China reported a record low rate of 9.56 million births in 2022, which was a decrease of 850,000, or 10%, from 2021, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. There were 10.41 million deaths last year, marking the first time China’s population has declined since 1961 after a three-year famine killed tens of millions of people.

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Tuesday’s numbers were part of Chinese President Xi Jinping‘s economic report for 2022. The report showed a 3% increase in gross domestic product, which was the weakest number in decades as Beijing’s government faces backlash following last month’s sudden reversal of its zero-tolerance policy toward COVID-19.

Over the weekend, China reported close to 60,000 people have died from the virus since early December after ending three years of anti-COVID measures. Experts predict the death toll could rise to 1 million in the coming months.

“In the long run, we are going to see a China the world has never seen,” said Wang Feng, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Irvine.

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“It will no longer be the young, vibrant, growing population. We will start to appreciate China, in terms of its population, as an old and shrinking population,” Feng said.

As China’s population shrinks and life expectancy increases, nearly a third of its population could be over the age of 60 by 2035, according to projections. That means the world’s second largest economy, behind the United States, will no longer have enough people of working age to support the country’s manufacturing sector.

China, which has seen declining birth rates over the past decade, relaxed its one-child policy after 35 years in 2016. The government raised the limit to three children in 2021 after China’s birthrate decreased to its lowest level since 1978. The government has even offered cash and tax cuts to encourage couples to procreate, as some economists blame China’s declining population on the rise of the middle class.

“Once you have well-qualified, well-educated urban people, they will decide not to produce a lot of kids,” said Kent Deng, professor of economic history at the London School of Economics and Political Science, who also believes China’s one-child policy may have permanently changed ideas about family size.

“They can see the result, because they can send their kids to the best schools and then to the best universities,” Deng said.

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China, Japan and South Korea are now among the lowest fertility rates in the world. According to new estimates from the United Nations, India’s population could outgrow China’s by the end of the year.

While the United Nations predicts China’s population will continue to decline from its current 1.41 billion people to 800 million by the end of the century, the population of the United States is expected to grow from its current 337 million, mostly through immigration.