China’s birth rate has fallen to its lowest in decades and its total population is on track to start shrinking very soon, new statistics suggest.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics dropped its latest update on the country’s population on Tuesday, showing the national population was 1.4126 billion at the end of 2021. That figure is up 480,000 people since the end of 2020 – but the annual growth rate of 0.034 percent is the lowest since the early 1960s. The birth rate also fell to 7.52 births per 1,000 people, the lowest since 1949 when the bureau began collating data.
The National Bureau of Statistics claims there were two prime reasons for this “continued slowdown in population growth.” Firstly, they say the number of women of childbearing age decreased by about 5 million last year, a trend that’s continued in recent years. Secondly, people are marrying and having kids later in life than before. According to their analysis, peoples’ first marriage and first childbirth are now around 2 years later than 10 years ago.
Based on these trends, many experts believe that China's population may have reached its apex in 2021 and the country is now on the brink of long-term population decline.
“The demographic challenge is well known but the speed of population aging is clearly faster than expected,” said Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management, according to Reuters.
“This suggests China’s total population may have reached its peak in 2021. It also indicates China’s potential growth is likely slowing faster than expected,” added Zhang.
Just like other countries in Asia, plus Europe and North America, China is dealing with an aging population. Compared to 2020, the population of people aged 15 and under decreased by 5.28 million, and the "working age" population aged 16 to 59 increased by 2.47 million. At the other end of the scale, the population aged 65 and above increased by 9.92 million.
None of this is news to China. Last year, they unveiled a new policy to allow – and actively encourage – couples to have up to three children in a pushback against their sharp decline in birth rates.
This marked a radical shift from the People's Republic of China's infamous “one-child policy” introduced in the late 1970s and '80s in a push to control the country's booming population. This controversial policy ended in 2015, allowing couples to have two children after it was realized the policy was causing population numbers to slip too severely.
Elsewhere in the world, many other countries could be heading towards a similar population plunge. In 2020, a massive study in The Lancet projected that the global population will decline within the next century, the first time it’s done so since the Black Death in the 14th century. The global population was forecasted to grow over the next few decades and peak in 2064 at around 9.7 billion people, before falling to 8.8 billion by 2100.
In that analysis, China's population was predicted to slump to 732 million by 2100, but they weren’t the only part of the world to experience such a decline. Up to 23 countries could see their populations shrink by more than 50 percent, including Japan, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Portugal, South Korea. The only parts of the world that are forecasted to see a rise in population numbers by the end of the 21st century are North Africa, the Middle East, and most prominently Sub-Saharan Africa.