China’s population decline accelerated in 2023, official data showed Wednesday, extending a downward streak after more than six decades of growth as the country battles a looming demographic crisis.
Once the world’s most populous country, China was overtaken by India last year, with Beijing now scrambling to boost falling birth rates through subsidies and pro-fertility propaganda.
“By the end of 2023, the national population was 1,409.67 million… a decrease of 2.08 million over that at the end of 2022,” Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said Wednesday.
Last year’s decline was more than double the fall reported for 2022, when the country lost 850,000 people as its population shrank for the first time since 1960.
“In 2023, the number of births was 9.02 million with a birth rate of 6.39 per thousand,” the NBS said Wednesday, down from 9.56 million births in 2022.
China ended its strict “one-child policy”, imposed in the 1980s amid overpopulation fears, in 2016 and started letting couples have three children in 2021.
But that has failed to reverse the demographic decline for a country that has long relied on its vast workforce as a driver of economic growth.
Many blame falling birth rates on the soaring cost of living, as well as the growing number of women going into the workforce and seeking higher education.
“The trend of China’s population decline is basically impossible to reverse,” He Yafu, an independent Chinese demographer, told AFP.
“Even if fertility is encouraged, it is impossible for China’s fertility rate to rise to replacement level, because now the younger generation has fundamentally changed its conception of fertility and is generally unwilling to have more children,” He said.
To postpone an economic crisis as the pool of working-age adults shrinks, He said the government should roll out more incentives including childrearing stipends, “developing universal child-care services, and increasing the rate of children under the age of three entering nursery schools”.
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