In landmark shift, China’s population declines in 2022

China’s population shrinks for first time in over 60 years

January 17, 2023 08:02 am | Updated 06:00 pm IST - Beijing

The last time China’s population declined was in 1960, as the country battled the worst famine in its modern history. Image for representation purpose only.

The last time China’s population declined was in 1960, as the country battled the worst famine in its modern history. Image for representation purpose only. | Photo Credit: AP

China’s population declined by 8,50,000 in 2022, the first such fall since a nationwide famine in 1961, marking a landmark demographic shift for the world’s second-largest economy.

The National Bureau of Statistics in Beijing on January 17 said the national population stood at 1.411 billion at the end of 2022. India will overtake China as the world’s most populous nation in 2023, according to a U.N. report released last year.

Also Read | India projected to surpass China as world’s most populous country during 2023: UN report

The number of births in China was 9.56 million, a more than 10% drop from 2021. The number of deaths was 10.41 million.

If the last population drop six decades ago was a result of a devastating famine caused by Mao Zedong’s failed “Great Leap Forward” campaign, the current trends reflect changing social values in China as families choose to have fewer children.

Government campaigns over the past decade to boost birth rates — a U-turn from years of a harsh “one-child policy” — have failed to reverse the trend. In 2021, Beijing’s family planning authority for the first time allowed couples to have a third child. The move came five years after a “two-child policy” had been introduced to boost birth rates. A government survey carried out at the time of the introduction of the two-child policy found 70% of respondents cited financial reasons, including costs of education, healthcare and housing, to not have many children.

Tuesday’s numbers also underlined the challenges the country faces in navigating an ageing society as its workforce shrinks. The 16-59 working age population, as of the end of 2022, was 875.56 million or 62%, down from over 950 million in 2010. The above-60 population accounted for 280 million or 19.8%, up from 249 million in 2010.

Asked about China, which saw its economic growth boom over four decades driven by a large labour force, now losing its status as the world’s most populous nation, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said “China and India are countries with a big population and we have ample resources in the working force.” “This is a strong internal dynamic for economic development,” he said. “We both also have a large market. The two countries should take advantage of their population dividend for each other’s respective national development and make a greater contribution to the international community.”

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