China records its first population decline in decades as births fall

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BEIJING — China has announced a population decline for the first time in decades as it ages and its birth rate falls, once the world’s most populous country.

The National Bureau of Statistics reported on Tuesday that the country had 850,000 fewer inhabitants at the end of 2022 than the year before. The census only includes the population of mainland China, excluding Hong Kong and Macao, 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 agency said at a briefing Tuesday.

Men outnumbered women at 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 descendants to carry on the family name.

Since abolishing the policy, China has tried to encourage families to have a second or even third child, with little success, mirroring attitudes across much of East Asia, where birth rates have plummeted. In China, the cost of raising children in cities is often cited as a cause.

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China has long been the most populous nation in the world, but is expected to soon be overtaken by India, if it hasn’t already. According to estimates, India’s population is over 1.4 billion and continues to grow.

The last time China reportedly recorded a population decline was during the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s, under then-leader Mao Zedong’s disastrous push for collective farming and industrialization that led to a massive famine that killed tens of millions of people. cost life.

Yi Fuxian, an expert on Chinese population trends at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tweeted that the data reflected how China’s population began to decline nine to 10 years earlier than predicted by Chinese officials and the United Nations.

That means China’s “true demographic crisis is unimaginable and all of China’s past policies…were based on erroneous demographic data,” Yi wrote.

“China’s demographic and economic outlook is much bleaker than expected,” he added, predicting that China should take a less belligerent tone internationally and improve its relations with the West.

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The Chinese bureau of statistics said that the labor force between the ages of 16 and 59 totaled 875.56 million, accounting for 62.0% of the national population, while the population aged 65 and over totaled 209.78 million, accounting for 14 .9% of the total.

The statistics also showed increasing urbanization in a country that was historically largely rural. In 2022, the permanent urban population has increased by 6.46 million to 920.71 million, or 65.22%, while the rural population has decreased by 7.31 million.

It was not immediately clear whether population figures have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak which 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.

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The United Nations estimated last year that the world’s population reached 8 billion on November 15 and that India will replace China as the world’s most populous nation by 2023.

In a report released on World Population Day, the UN also states that global population growth in 2020 will fall below 1% for the first time since 1950.

Also Tuesday, the agency released data showing China’s economic growth fell to the second lowest level in at least four decades last year under pressure from antivirus 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 falling to 2.4% in 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, though activity is picking up after restrictions that kept millions of people at home and sparked protests led were lifted.