Several hospitals in China have closed or downsized their obstetrics units. This has reignited worries about China’s declining birth rates.
Why it matters
In 2022, China saw only 9.56 million births. This is nearly a 10% decline from 2021. Predictions suggest the figure might drop to 7 million by the end of 2023, a staggering decline of almost 27%. For the first time since 1961, China’s official numbers from the CCP starting showing China’s population decline. This shift towards an older population might challenge CCP’s GDP growth ambitions. Notably, India has surpassed China as the world’s most populous country.
Behind the numbers
- Xi Jinping has publicly addressed the falling birthrate. Since ending the one-child policy in 2016, families are allowed up to three children. Some areas have even removed birth registration caps. Moreover, other areas have incentives in the form of small cash subsidies are provided for families with more than one child.
- Yet, these efforts aren’t yielding results and demand greater social spending, something Xi isn’t keen on, to reverse China’s declining birth rate. Births have seen a sharp decline of about 50% since 2016. Urban, educated young women find child-rearing too costly. They’re also hesitant about traditional family norms.
Between the lines
Declining birthrates aren’t the sole reason for hospital closures. Some point to more high-risk pregnancies. Others mention staffing issues. A case in point is Yinzhou, where a unit merged into a new health center, but not due to falling births.
What they’re saying
Online discussions hint at a potentially graver scenario than official data shows. A NetEase blogger suggests that deserted obstetrics units signify fewer pregnancies. This highlights the ongoing dip in China’s newborn count. An obstetrician from the Harbin maternal and child care hospital has also expressed concern, pointing out that even one birth a day is now noteworthy.
The big picture
Challenges loom large for China. Despite Xi’s assurances, his love of austerity and advising the younger generations to endure hardship (“eat bitterness”) does not bode well. The steady fall in birthrate, coupled with societal changes, signals a deep-rooted demographic issue. Current healthcare shifts are just another signal for China’s population collapse.