China yesterday announced its first population decline in decades as what has been the world’s most populous nation ages and its birthrate plunges.
The Chinese National Bureau of Statistics reported that the country had 850,000 fewer people at the end of last year than the previous year.
The tally includes only the population of mainland China, excluding Hong Kong and Macau, as well as foreign residents.
That left a total of 1.41 billion people, with 9.56 million births against 10.41 million deaths, the bureau said in a news briefing.
Men outnumbered women by 722.06 million to 689.69 million, a result of the one-child policy that officially ended in 2016 and a traditional preference for male offspring to carry on the family name.
Since abandoning the policy, China has sought to encourage families to have second or even third children, with little success, reflecting attitudes in much of East Asia where birthrates have fallen precipitously.
In China, the expense of raising children in cities is often cited as a cause.
China has long been the world’s most populous nation, but is expected to soon be overtaken by India, if it has not already.
Estimates put India’s population at more than 1.4 billion and continuing to grow.
The last time China is believed to have recorded a population decline was during the Great Leap Forward launched at the end of the 1950s, under Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) drive for collective farming and industrialization that produced a massive famine killing tens of millions of people.
China’s population has begun to decline nine or 10 years earlier than Chinese officials and the UN projected, said Yi Fuxian (易富賢), a demographer and expert on Chinese population trends at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
That means that China’s “real demographic crisis is beyond imagination and that all of China’s past economic, social, defense and foreign policies were based on faulty demographic data,” Yi said.
Based on his own research, China’s population has actually been declining since 2018, showing the population crisis is “much more severe” than previously thought, he said.
China now has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, comparable only to Taiwan and South Korea, he added.
China’s looming economic crisis will be worse than Japan’s, where years of low growth have been blamed in part on a shrinking population, Yi said.
“China has become older before it has become rich,” he said.
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