China’s population shrank for the first time since the 1960s, putting it one step closer to India overtaking China as the world’s most populated nation.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said during a briefing on yearly data on Tuesday that the nation’s population decreased in 2022 to 1.411 billion, down about 850,000 people from the previous year. The last time China’s population fell was in 1961 when a famine across the nation claimed the lives of tens of millions of people.
This time, many factors are to blame for the decline, including the extensive effects of China’s one-child policy, which it instituted in the 1980s but has since abandoned, the changing attitudes of Chinese youth toward marriage and family, entrenched gender inequality, and the difficulties of raising children in the country’s pricey cities.
As the second-largest economy in the world, China plays a significant role in fostering global growth, but experts warn that if the trend is prolonged, it might also cause issues for the rest of the globe. China’s workforce is aging, which is already an issue, and a declining population is likely to worsen matters as the country tries to recover from the pandemic.
China Population Decline
China’s one-child policy, which for over 35 years prohibited families from having more than one child, is partially to blame for the population reduction. Women who violated the rule were frequently subjected to forced abortions, significant penalties, and eviction.
The government abolished the restriction after becoming concerned about the recent decline in the birth rate. Couples were allowed to have two children in 2015, which increased to three in 2021. But for various reasons, the legislative change and other government initiatives haven’t impacted much, like providing financial incentives.
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Major contributing causes include increasing house prices and high living and educational costs. Many people, particularly those living in cities, struggle with stagnant salaries, a lack of job possibilities, and long workdays that make it challenging and expensive to raise even one child, let alone three.
These problems are made worse by persistent gender roles frequently assigning women the bulk of household duties and child care. Because women are now more educated and financially independent than ever, they are increasingly unwilling to shoulder this unfair burden.
Employers are frequently reluctant to pay for maternity leave, and women have also reported experiencing discrimination at work based on their marital or parental status. Measures like improved childcare options and paternity leave have already started to be implemented in some towns and provinces. But a lot of feminists and campaigners feel it’s not nearly enough.
With a disillusioned younger population whose livelihoods and well-being were undermined by China’s strict zero-Covid policy, frustrations were further exacerbated throughout the pandemic.
What This Means for China
China’s demographic issues are likely to worsen due to a declining population. The younger generation is under a great deal of stress as a result of the nation’s aging population and declining labor force.
According to officials’ estimates released on Tuesday, nearly a fifth of China’s population is elderly. According to some experts, the nation may be on the same route as Japan, which had three decades of economic stagnation at the beginning of the 1990s, which also happened to be the time of its aging population.
“The Chinese economy is entering a critical transition phase, no longer able to rely on an abundant, cost-competitive labor force to drive industrialization and growth,” said HSBC chief Asia economist Frederic Neumann.
“As the supply of workers begins to shrink, productivity growth will need to pick up to sustain the economy’s heady pace of expansion.”
Due to months of Covid lockdowns and a record decline in the real estate market, China’s economy will only grow by 3% in 2022, one of the worst performances in over 50 years. Since fewer people are employed, recovery could become even more complicated if China restarts international travel and lifts many of the onerous restrictions it has maintained for the previous five years.
There are also societal repercussions. As the population ages, fewer employees will pay for pensions and healthcare, resulting in a rise in demand for these services and putting pressure on China’s social security system. Because many young people are already working to support their parents and two sets of grandparents, there will also be fewer people to care for the elderly.
Implication for the World
China’s problems may affect the rest of the globe because of its importance as the engine of the global economy. The epidemic has demonstrated how China’s internal issues can impact the flow of trade and investment, as border controls and lockdowns hurt supply chains.
A weakening Chinese economy could undermine China’s goal of surpassing the US as the most excellent economy and slowing global growth.
“China’s limited ability to react to this demographic shift will likely lead to slower growth outcomes in the next twenty to thirty years and impact its ability to compete on the world stage with the United States,” the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies said in an article on its website last August.
India, whose population and economy are both rising, appears to have a good chance of overtaking China this year as the most populated country in the world. Yi Fuxian, a student of Chinese demographics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tweeted that “India is the largest winner.”
While Yi acknowledged that India’s GDP would someday overtake the US, there is still a long way to go. After passing the United Kingdom last year to become the fifth-largest economy in the world, several analysts have expressed concern that India isn’t producing enough jobs to accommodate its growing labor population.
The news from China may, however, have a positive side, according to some researchers.
“For climate change and the environment, a smaller population is a benefit not a curse,” tweeted Mary Gallagher, director of the International Institute at the University of Michigan. Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist at NASA, argued that population decline shouldn’t be viewed “as a terrible thing,” pointing instead to “exponentially accelerating global heating and biodiversity loss.”
The Actions Taken by the Government
Officials in China have increased their efforts to support larger families, notably through a multi-agency plan unveiled last year to expand maternity leave and provide tax discounts and other benefits to families. In October, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to “enhance the population development strategy” and lessen the financial strain on families.
China's population expected to start to shrink before 2025 https://t.co/K2yU3oHsws pic.twitter.com/tM99niGxgj
— Reuters (@Reuters) July 25, 2022
“[We will] establish a policy system to boost birth rates, and bring down the costs of pregnancy and childbirth, child-rearing, and schooling,” Xi said. “We will pursue a proactive national strategy in response to population aging, develop elderly care programs and services, and provide better services for elderly people who live alone.”
Some areas even provide financial incentives to promote more births. In 2021, a hamlet in southern Guangdong province announced that it would pay permanent inhabitants with children under the age of two and a half up to $510 per month, or a maximum of more than $15,000 per child.
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Housing subsidies have been made available for couples with numerous children in other regions. However, many experts and locals claim that more extensive national reforms are required because those efforts have not yielded any results. After Tuesday’s news broke, a hashtag went viral on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform: “To encourage childbirth, you must first solve the worries of young people.”
“Our salaries are so low, rent is so high, and financial pressure so heavy. My future husband will work overtime until 3 a.m. every day until the end of the year,” one Weibo user wrote. “My survival and health are already problems, let alone having children.”
The National Bureau of Statistics of China reported on Tuesday that the population of mainland China was 1.411 billion at the end of 2022, a reduction of 850,000 from the previous year. Please forward this post and encourage your friends and family to visit leedaily.com for the newest news.