China’s population growth rate has fallen to its lowest level in six decades, barely exceeding the number of deaths in 2021 despite major government efforts to increase population growth and avert a population crisis.
Across China, 10.62 million babies were born in 2021, a rate of 7.52 per thousand people, the national statistics bureau said Monday. During the same period, 10.14 million deaths were recorded, representing a mortality rate of 7.18 per thousand, producing a population growth rate of only 0.34 per thousand inhabitants.
The growth rate is the lowest since 1960 and adds to the results of the annual census last May, which showed an average annual increase of 0.53%, compared to 0.57% from 2000 to 2010.
China, like much of East Asia, is in the throes of a demographic crisis, with declining birth rates and forecasts of impending negative population growth and an aging population. Monday’s figures showed that the proportion of over-60s in China fell from 18.7% in 2020 to 18.9%.
“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.
“This suggests that China’s total population may have peaked in 2021. It also indicates that China’s potential growth is likely slowing faster than expected.
Beijing has announced major reforms to deal with the decline, including raising the retirement age. A three-child policy replaced the two-child policy introduced in 2016 and had caused births to rise slightly before falling back.
The high cost of living, delayed marriages and lack of social mobility are frequently cited as factors contributing to young Chinese people’s reluctance to have children. In response, Beijing has banned expensive tutoring and pledged to improve access to childcare and maternity leave.
Professor Wang Feng, from the University of California at Irvine and who specializes in Asian demographics, said the findings showed the root causes were deeper than policymakers thought.
“The policies announced last year are mostly rhetoric, or at most band-aids,” he told the Guardian.
“Without addressing the deep-rooted causes that discourage young Chinese people from marrying and having children, from gender inequality to the high cost of living, what we are seeing now is probably just the beginning. a further decline in the birth rate and a prolonged process of demographic decline in China. .”
China also faces potential instability on the economic front, with GDP data released alongside demographic results showing a dramatic slowdown in the final months of 2021.
China, the world’s second-largest economy, posted a higher-than-expected GDP growth of 8.1% year-on-year, above the government’s forecast of 6%, but with growth concentrated in the first half of the year. In the fourth quarter, it increased by 4%, against 4.9% in the third quarter.
“The national economy is under the triple pressure of shrinking demand, supply shock and weakening expectations,” said bureau spokesman Ning Jizhe.
The past year has seen extraordinary levels of change in consumer habits and government interventions in major Chinese industries. Retail sales growth fell from 3.9% in November to 1.7% in December.
“Economic growth is clearly under pressure, (and) recent outbreaks of Omicron in China have exacerbated downside risk,” Zhang said.
Construction has slumped and property sales have been battered amid a development slump, including continued financial difficulties at big business Evergrande.
Government intervention in the billion-dollar tutoring industry and continued crackdown on the tech sector have also led to waves of layoffs. A push to cut emissions coupled with supply chain issues and a ban on some imported coals has been blamed, along with rising electricity prices for blackouts.