China’s population has declined for the second consecutive year in 2023, with official data showing a 0.15% drop, equivalent to 2.08 million people, bringing the total population to 1.409 billion. This decline follows a record-low birth rate and a surge in Covid-19 deaths after the strict lockdowns were lifted in December 2022.
The total deaths in 2023 rose by 6.6% to 11.1 million, marking the highest death rate since 1974 during the Cultural Revolution. New births fell by 5.7% to 9.02 million, with a record-low birth rate of 6.39 births per 1,000 people.
China’s birth rate has been declining for decades due to the one-child policy (1980-2015) and rapid urbanization. The economic impact includes concerns about the diminishing growth prospects of the world’s second-largest economy, as fewer workers and consumers contribute to rising costs of eldercare and retirement benefits.
Youth unemployment hitting record highs, falling wages for white-collar workers, and a property sector crisis further dampen the desire for childbearing in 2023. The aging population is a significant concern, with China’s population aged 60 and above reaching 296.97 million in 2023, accounting for 21.1% of the total population.
The United Nations estimates that China’s population could shrink by 109 million by 2050, three times more than their previous forecast in 2019. This, coupled with an increasing retirement-age population expected to surpass 400 million by 2035, poses challenges to the pension system, potentially running out of funds by that year.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for the cultivation of a new culture of marriage and childbearing to address the declining birth rate. Various local government measures, including tax deductions and housing subsidies, aim to encourage childbirth, but challenges such as insufficient funding and lack of motivation hinder their implementation.
Despite these incentives, citizens like Wang Weidong, a Beijing resident, remain reluctant to have a second child, emphasizing that incentives are auxiliary and not the root cause of the declining birth rate. The long-term impact on China’s demographics and economy is a subject of growing concern, with geopolitical tensions and the surpassing of China by India as the world’s most populous nation in 2023 adding to the debate over supply chain relocation.
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