China’s population shrinks for the first time in six decades and projections say it could HALF by 2100 – with India set to overtake as world’s biggest in April

  • Nation of 1.4 billion has seen birth rates plunge to record lows as workforce ages
  • National Bureau of Statistics reported a decrease of 850,000 people since 2021
  • Current birth rate in China is 1.2, well below rate to sustain population growth
  • India is on track to overtake China’s population to become biggest on April 14

China’s population shrank last year for the first time in more than six decades, official data shows, as the world’s most populous country faces a looming demographic crisis.

The nation of 1.4 billion has seen birth rates plunge to record lows as its workforce ages, in a rapid decline that analysts warn could stymie economic growth and pile pressure on strained public coffers.

The mainland Chinese population stood at around 1,411,750,000 at the end of 2022, Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported, a decrease of 850,000 from the end of the previous year. The number of births was 9.56 million, the NBS said, while the number of deaths stood at 10.41 million.

The news comes after a UN report predicted last week that India’s population is set to overtake China’s on April 14 to become the world’s biggest, while projections warned that the country could see its population half by 2100.

 China’s population shrank last year for the first time in more than six decades, official data showed Tuesday, as the world’s most populous country faces a looming demographic crisis. Pictured: A UN projections graph showing China’s population forecast

A UN report (data on India pictured) predicted last week that India’s population is set to overtake China’s on April 14 to become the world’s biggest

The latest NBS tally includes only the population of mainland China, excluding Hong Kong and Macao as well as foreign residents.

Men outnumbered women by 722.06 million to 689.69 million, a result of the strict one-child policy that only officially ended in 2016 and a traditional preference for male offspring to carry on the family name.

The current birth rate in China is 1.2, well below the rate to maintain a sustainable population. India has a higher rate and a more youthful population.

As a result, the Chinese population could decline each year by 1.1 percent on average, according to a study by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences updated last year.

China could have only 587 million inhabitants in 2100, less than half of today, according to the most pessimistic projections of that team of demographers.

The last time China’s population declined was in the early 1960s, as the country battled the worst famine in its modern history, a result of the disastrous Mao Zedong agricultural policy known as the Great Leap Forward – a disastrous drive for collective farming and industrialization that killed tens of millions of people.

China ended its strict one-child policy – imposed in the 1980s owing to fears of overpopulation – in 2016 and began allowing couples to 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.

‘The population will likely trend down from here in coming years,’ Zhiwei Zhang of Pinpoint Asset Management said.

‘China cannot rely on the demographic dividend as a structural driver for economic growth,’ he added. ‘Economic growth will have to depend more on productivity growth, which is driven by government policies.’

The UN report claims it will take approximately 15 years — until 2037 — for the world’s population to reach nine billion. Half of this next billion is expected to come from just eight countries, with five of them in Africa; the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Tanzania

By 2050, India’s population will be 300million more than China’s, the UN estimates

China’s statistics bureau said the working-age population between 16 and 59 years old totalled 875.56 million, accounting for 62.0% of the national population, while those aged 65 and older totalled 209.78 million, accounting for 14.9% of the total.

The statistics also showed increasing urbanization in a country that traditionally had been largely rural. 

Over 2022, the permanent urban population increased by 6.46 million to reach 920.71 million, or 65.22%, while the rural population fell by 7.31 million.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the population figures have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak that was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading around the world. 

China has been accused by some specialists of under-reporting deaths from the virus by blaming them on underlying conditions, but no estimates of the actual number have been published.

China’s population has begun to decline 9-10 years earlier than Chinese officials predicted and the United Nation projected, said Yi Fuxian, 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 told The Associated Press.

The nation of 1.4 billion has seen birth rates plunge to record lows as its workforce ages. Pictured: Travellers crowd at the gates and wait for trains at the Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station during the peak travel rush for the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday on January 15

China ended its strict one-child policy – imposed in the 1980s owing to fears of overpopulation – in 2016 and began allowing couples to have three children in 2021. But that has failed to reverse the demographic decline. Pictured: Women wearing face masks walk with their children on a street as they head to the Forbidden City in Beijing, January 17

News of the population decline quickly trended on China’s heavily censored internet, with some expressing fears for the country’s future.

‘Without children, the state and the nation have no future,’ one comment on the Twitter-like Weibo service read. ‘Having children is also a social responsibility,’ another comment from a well-known ‘patriotic’ influencer read.

But others pointed to the soaring cost of living and the difficulties of raising children in modern China. ‘I love my mother, I will not be a mother,’ said one.

‘No one reflects on why we do not want to have (children) and do not want to get married,’ another said.

Many local authorities have already launched measures to encourage couples to have children.

The southern megacity of Shenzhen, for example, now offers a birth bonus and pays allowances until the child is three years old.

A couple who has their first baby automatically receives 3,000 yuan ($444), an amount that rises to 10,000 yuan for their third.

In the country’s east, the city of Jinan has since January 1 paid a monthly stipend of 600 yuan for couples that have a second child.

Chinese people are ‘getting used to the small family because of the decades-long one-child policy’, Xiujian Peng, a researcher at Australia’s University of Victoria, said.

‘The Chinese government has to find effective policies to encourage birth, otherwise, fertility will slip even lower,’ she added.

And analysts argue much more needs to be done.

‘A comprehensive policy package that covers childbirth, parenting, and education is needed to reduce the cost of childraising,’ researcher Peng told AFP.

‘Women’s job insecurity after giving birth should be addressed particularly.’

Independent demographer He Yafu also pointed to ‘the decline in the number of women of childbearing age, which fell by five million per year between 2016 and 2021’ – a consequence of the ageing of the population.

‘A declining and ageing population will be a real concern for China,’ Peng said. ‘It will have a profound impact on China’s economy from the present through to 2100.’

A man pulls a child past a Lunar New Year decoration on display at the Qianmen pedestrian shopping street, a popular tourist spot in Beijing, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023

The UN estimated last year that the world’s population reached 8 billion on Nov. 15 and that India will replace China as the world’s most populous nation in 2023. 

India’s last census was scheduled for 2022 but was postponed amid the pandemic.

In a report released on World Population Day, the U.N. also said global population growth fell below 1% in 2020 for the first time since 1950.

Also Tuesday, the bureau released data showing China’s economic growth fell to its second-lowest level in at least four decades last year under pressure from anti-virus controls and a real estate slump.

The world’s No. 2 economy grew by 3% in 2022, less than half of the previous year’s 8.1%, the data showed. That was the second-lowest annual rate since at least the 1970s, after the drop to 2.4% in 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Activity is slowly reviving after restrictions that kept millions of people at home and sparked protests were lifted. 

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