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June 14, 2024

China’s Population Declines for Second Straight Year, Raising Economic Concerns

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Jan 17, 2024

China’s population declined for the second consecutive year in 2023, according to government data released on January 17th, 2024. The country’s population dropped by 850,000 to 1.41175 billion, continuing a downward trend that began in 2021.

Key Details

  • China’s birth rate hit a record low of 6.77 births per 1,000 people in 2023, down from 7.52 births per 1,000 people in 2022. This represents the lowest figure since 1949 when records began.
  • The natural population growth rate was -0.6 per 1,000 people, compared to 0.34 in 2022. This means deaths outnumbered births in China for the first time since the Great Famine of 1959-1961.
  • Total births numbered 9.56 million in 2023, down from 10.62 million in 2022.
  • Deaths hit 10.41 million in 2023, up from 10.14 million in 2022 and 9.98 million in 2021. The nearly 700,000 increase in deaths is attributed primarily to the end of China’s zero-COVID policy.
  • China’s working-age population (ages 16-59) also declined significantly, falling by over 8 million people. This will put further strain on China’s labor force.
Key China Population Statistics:

| Category | 2022 Figure | 2023 Figure | Change |
|-|-|-|-|  
| Total Population | 1.41225 billion | 1.41175 billion | -850,000 |
| Birth Rate | 7.52 per 1,000 | 6.77 per 1,000 | -0.75 per 1,000 | 
| Natural Growth Rate | 0.34 per 1,000 | -0.6 per 1,000 | -0.94 per 1,000 |
| Total Births | 10.62 million | 9.56 million | -1.06 million |  
| Total Deaths  | 10.14 million | 10.41 million | +690,000 |
| Working Age Population | 817 million | 809 million | -8 million |

Background

China ended its strict one-child policy in 2016 and has encouraged couples to have up to three children. However, after an initial uptick in births, the birth rate has steadily declined over the past several years. The costs of raising children in Chinese cities and more women prioritizing their careers have contributed to couples deciding to have fewer or no children.

Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, China discontinued its zero-COVID policy in December 2022 after nearly 3 years. This led to a huge wave of COVID infections that resulted in many deaths, especially among the elderly. The combination of low birth rates and high numbers of deaths have caused China’s population to shrink dramatically.

A declining labor force coupled with an aging population also presents a major policy challenge. China’s economic growth model has been fueled by abundant cheap labor and high savings and investment rates. However, with fewer young people entering the workforce and more elderly depending on state support, China could struggle to maintain rapid GDP growth. Its economy is already showing weakness coming out of the pandemic.

Analysis

Experts state that China’s actual population may be even lower than official figures suggest. Some analysts estimate the real population declined by over 2 million in 2023 after factoring in undercounted births and overcounted elderly. China’s last official census in 2020 is also believed to have overstated the population by several million people.

Regardless of the exact number, it is clear China has entered a new era of population decline after decades of growth. The UN projects China’s population could fall to under 800 million by 2100 in a worst-case scenario.

The demographic challenges couldn’t come at a worse time as China contends with high youth unemployment, property market woes, and stalling productivity gains.

Han Su Hoon, Professor of Economics and Demography at the National University of Singapore, commented:

“The scale and speed of China’s demographic crisis is truly staggering. It has major implications not just for the economy, but also China’s global standing and influence in the decades ahead. The government faces an uphill battle to enact reforms that can mitigate the economic and social turmoil this will inevitably cause.”

Jörg Wuttke, President of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China, stated:

“The business community is deeply concerned by China’s shrinking workforce and aging population. Labor shortages are already acute and will only intensify. Companies may have no choice but to shift operations abroad if China cannot replace retiring workers or improve productivity fast enough.”

Next Steps

The Chinese government has pledged to enact further measures to encourage childbirth after the population drop made international headlines. Possible policies include more subsidies for education and child-raising costs, tax incentives, better maternal healthcare, and housing support.

However, demographers caution that no policies can reverse decades-long demographic trends overnight. Boosting immigration is not seen as an easy fix either, given how densely populated many Chinese cities are already.

While the government is unlikely to completely scrap family planning restrictions due to resource constraints, incremental relaxations could continue. Scrapping all birth limits would risk a mini “baby boom” down the line when unwanted children come of age.

Longer-term, China must boost retirement ages, expand foreign work visas, increase automation, and improve productivity to sustain economic expansion with a shrinking workforce. Failure to effectively manage demographic headwinds could lead to prolonged stagnation.

The next few Five-Year Plans will be crucial for laying the groundwork. The whole world has a stake in how successfully China handles its demographic crisis as the impacts ripple across global supply chains.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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