Date: 20 January 2022 Author: Patryk Szczotka
China’s Demographic Slowdown
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been ranked among the world’s most populous countries since its establishment. At the beginning of 2022, the country still tops that list, but the latest data of the National Bureau of Statistics of China shows a worrying population trend.
In 2021, the PRC’s population reached 1.41 billion, an increase of 480,000 compared to 2020.[i] These figures do not include Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.[ii] “The most shocking part of the data release today is that the natural growth of the population has dropped to 0.34 per thousand, the first time below 1.0 since data become available,” said Zhang Zhiwei, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management.[iii] “The low growth rate shows the population is aging faster than expected and suggests China’s total population may have reached its peak in 2021,” he added.[iv] According to official statistics, the number of births in mainland China fell by 13% in 2021, or to 10.62 million children. This is a slight improvement from 2020, when the birth rate fell by 22%.[v]
Low birth rates are a key obstacle for superpower aspirations of the government in Beijing. They are associated with, among others, the challenge of “getting old before getting rich” – an aging population limits the economic growth and the potential productivity that an individual can contribute to the society.[vi] The PRC is trying to counteract the negative population trends by relaxing its well-known family planning policy. The rule allowing people to legally have only one child, which has been in place for over 30 years, was relaxed in 2016 (two children allowed) and again in 2021 (three children allowed).[vii] However, many Chinese citizens are reluctant to expand their families significantly due to cultural and economic changes, for instance, high cost of living and educating children, as well as a career oriented lifestyle.[viii] The control over births has also led to large differences in male and female populations. Since the male offspring is more desirable in the Chinese culture, males outnumber females at this time.[ix] It is worth noting that the long-term effects of the PRC’s demographic policies contradict the popular opinion regarding the long-term perspective of the Chinese government, which is at odds with the perspective of terms of politicians in democratic systems.[x]
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