China’s dwindling population will touch negative growth by 2025 and may continue to shrink for more than a century, a media report said on Monday, as it highlighted the need for improving the overall quality of the population and changing economic development plans to address the problem.
The growth rate of China’s total population has slowed significantly and is expected to enter a negative growth during the current 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25), Yang Wenzhuang, head of population and family affairs at the National Health Commission, said at the Annual Conference of China Population Association on Thursday.
Chinese demographers predicted that negative population growth will be the dominant trend in the coming years for a long time and improving the overall quality of the population and changing economic development plans are vital to address the problem, the Global Times newspaper reported.
“This is an inevitable result of a long period of the low fertility rate,” said Huang Wenzheng, a demography expert and senior researcher at the Centre for China and Globalisation.
“It can be predicted that China’s birth rate will continue to shrink for more than a century and the birth rate in first-tier cities will continue to fall. The third-child policy may alleviate some of the problems, but it is unlikely to reverse the trend in the short term,” he told the state-run Global Times.
His comments came as the birth data for 2021 released by 29 provinces showed that the number of new births last year was the lowest in decades in several provinces, and only six among the top 10 provinces with the highest birth numbers exceed 500,000, the report said.
According to a recent report by the United Nations, India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country next year.
The World Population Prospects 2022 report compiled by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division said: “India is projected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country during 2023”.
India’s population stands at 1.412 billion in 2022, compared to China’s 1.426 billion, the report said.
India, which will surpass China as the world’s most populous nation by 2023, is projected to have a population of 1.668 billion in 2050, way ahead of China’s 1.317 billion people by the middle of the century.
China faced a demographic crisis as its child births decreased alarmingly while the numbers of old age population grew, warranting the government to expand geriatric care facilities.
China permitted all couples to have two children in 2016, scrapping the draconian decades-old one-child policy which policymakers blame for the current demographic crisis.
Last year, China passed a revised Population and Family Planning Law allowing Chinese couples to have three children in an apparent attempt to address the reluctance of couples to have more kids due to mounting costs.
The decision to permit the third child came after the once-in-a-decade census in 2020 showed that China’s population grew at its slowest pace to 1.412 billion.
“Low fertility rates mean that there are fewer potential mothers and fathers. The number of people willing to have children is also shrinking fast at the same time. Add these two factors together and we now see the trend of rapid shrinkage in natural population growth rate,” Huang said.
Lu Jiehua, a professor of sociology at Peking University, told the daily that given the current demographic trends, China will inevitably enter a period of negative population growth for a long time, although there might be some fluctuations occurring during this period.
To reduce the cost of childbirth, parenting, and education, many cities and regions have rolled out a set of measures, including reducing childbirth and education costs, to aim for balanced population growth in the long run.
“The overall arrangement of the social and economic development needs to be adjusted to adapt to the new pattern of population growth,” Lu said.
“For a long time in the past, China has relied on the demographic dividend to drive economic development. In the future, the demographic dividend may gradually decline or go into debt. In this case, we should explore advantages in areas beyond the demographic dividend to fully improve the overall quality of the population and create new conditions for economic development,” Lu said.
Addressing young people’s concerns and pressures about having and raising children, stabilising housing prices and optimising favourable policies may help alleviate the pressure of negative population growth, experts said.