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China’s population has decreased for the first time since the Great Famine of 1961

According to the UN forecast, China will officially cease to be the most populous country in the world in 2023, losing the championship to India / WANG Zhao / AFP

China’s demographic indicators began to show one of the features characteristic of some developed countries. According to the National Bureau of Statistics of the People’s Republic of China, the population has decreased by 850,000 people over the year and now stands at 1.41175 billion people. nine0003

The birth rate in China over the entire history of observations since 1949 has broken an anti-record: in 2022, only 9.56 million people were born (in 2021 — 10.62 million). Thus, the average birth rate in the country is now 6.77 births per 1,000 people, which is close to the lowest rates in the world.

The UN lists Puerto Rico (6.55) and South Korea (6.77) as the areas with the lowest birth rates, while the World Bank lists Puerto Rico (6. 4) and San Marino (6.7). For comparison: in 2021, 11.06 births per 1,000 people were registered in the United States, 9 in Russia.6, in the UK — 10.08, and in India — 16.42.

The death rate in 2022 in China also jumped to 7.37 per 1,000 people amid the widespread spread of COVID-19 in the country and reached its highest level since the 1970s. — 10.41 million citizens died. As a result, China’s ambitions may be crossed out by the problem of population aging, which will become even more urgent in the coming years.

According to official data from the PRC, at the end of 2022, there were 280 million people over the age of 60 in the country. The number of able-bodied population (from 16 to 59years) amounted to 875.56 million people, or 62% of citizens (a year ago — 62.5%).

According to the UN forecast, in 2023 China will officially cease to be the most populous country in the world, giving way to India. Moreover, if the current trend continues, China’s population will decrease to 1. 31 billion by 2050 and to 767 million by 2100 (even Nigeria could surpass it by then, according to a Lancet study). Back in 2019, the UN expected a decline in the population of China only after 2031, but in 2022 it revised its forecast. nine0003

The current figures are partly due to the consequences of the «one family — one child» policy that was in effect in China from 1979 to 2015, experts are sure. At that time, the Chinese (with some local exceptions and in relation to national minorities) were allowed to have no more than one child per family or two in the village, provided that the first child was a girl. Parents who violated the rules faced heavy fines. Since 2021, the Chinese authorities have allowed citizens to give birth to a third child.

Chinese GDP

3% was China’s GDP growth in 2022, according to data released on January 17 by the National Bureau of Statistics. At current exchange rates, GDP was about $18 trillion. China’s GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2022 slowed down and amounted to 2. 9% compared to the same period in 2021 (in the first quarter — by 4.8%, in the second — by 0.4%, in the third — by 3.9% ). With the exception of the first pandemic of 2020, when GDP growth was 2.3%, the figures for 2022 were the lowest since 1976, the year of Mao Zedong’s death.

One result of the one-child policy has been a much smaller generation of 1990-2000s, which is now in its reproductive age, says Vasily Kashin, director of the HSE Central Research Institute of Education and Science. An even more serious impact on the low birth rate is the situation in the real estate and education markets, he adds.

Despite the lifting of restrictive measures, very expensive housing and a high level of competition for access to high-quality higher education force parents to concentrate all their efforts on getting at least one child to enter a university, explains Kashin. It was with an attempt to make life easier for citizens that the Chinese government’s decision in 2021 to reform the real estate market and the continuing education industry was connected, he says. nine0003

China will feel the serious consequences of the current demographic crisis not even in the medium term, but in the short term, as it will deal a heavy blow to development prospects and “deprive society of dynamics,” the expert believes. This path, says Kashin, has already been followed by Japan and South Korea, where there are difficult problems with providing for a growing number of elderly populations, a climate in society and a slowdown in economic growth.

Robotization and artificial intelligence will allow China to temporarily compensate for the lack of labor resources, but globally the problem must be solved through social policy and changing the behavior of the population. If all other measures fail, then China may turn to the help of migrants, admits Kashin. nine0003

Demographic changes in China can be considered a strategic problem, says Sergei Lukonin, an expert at IMEMO RAS. The country is undergoing a demographic transition, and the number of young people will only decrease in the future, while the number of pensioners they need to support will increase.

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