Big picture: China’s births might hit a record low this year, deepening its demographic crisis. Academics admit births could fall to 7 million, with profound implications for the world’s second-largest economy.
By the numbers:
- Estimated births in 2023: 6 million to 8 million.
- Drop in births over the past five years: ~40%.
- Last year’s births: 9.56 million — the lowest ever in modern China and the first time it’s gone below 10 million.
- China’s population decreased by 850,000 people last year, the first drop admitted by the CCP since 1961.
- Kindergartens in China fell by 5,610 to 289,200 in 2022.
- Students in kindergartens & preschools dropped by 3.7% in 2022.
- Urban jobs declined by 8.4 million in 2022.
- Wedding registrations in 2022: 6.83 million, the lowest since the 1970s.
Why it matters: This rapid demographic shift is profoundly affecting the economy. Challenges include an ageing society, decreasing demand in housing and consumer markets, a reduced labour force, and pension struggles.
Between the lines: While promised incentives were introduced to enhance birth rates, their impact has been less impressive than anticipated. Even the Global Times in 2021 acknowledges that China would need to allocate 2% of its GDP to elevate its fertility rate to match Japan’s, which the CCP isn’t currently willing to do. Beyond policy measures, societal and economic influences, including postponed marriages and the cautious attitude of the younger generation in the face of financial unpredictability, are significant contributors.
Key insights from the conference:
- Qiao Jie of Peking University highlighted concerns over women’s reproductive capacity, including fewer childbearing-age women, rising infertility rates, and increasing adverse pregnancies.
- Technical barriers hamper women’s fertility improvement, with expensive reproductive medical devices mainly imported.
- Investments are needed in disease prevention for women and children.
Global context: India already surpasses China as the most populous nation, and China’s declining population is increasing the cost of Chinese labour, making it easier for the US, Japan, and Western allies to derisk their economies.
What’s next: Experts suggest supporting college students wishing to start families. But given the economic and political challenges, young people may be proper not to change their minds about marriage and family.