China’s population is shrinking.The impact will be felt around the world


China may be one step closer to ceding the world’s most populous position to India after its population shrank for the first time since the 1960s.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) announced at its annual data briefing on Tuesday that the country’s population will drop to 1.411 billion in 2022, about 850,000 fewer than the previous year.

The last time China’s population declined was in 1961, when a famine claimed tens of millions of lives across the country.

This time, there are multiple factors behind the decline: the far-reaching impact of China’s one-child policy introduced in the 1980s (but later abandoned); changing attitudes towards marriage and family among Chinese youth; entrenched gender inequality and raising children in China’s expensive cities challenge.

Experts warn that if sustained, the trend could also pose problems for the rest of the world, with China, the second-largest economy, playing a key role in driving global growth.

The population decline could exacerbate China’s aging workforce and drag on economic growth, exacerbating the country’s woes as it struggles to recover from the pandemic.

The population decline is partly due to China’s one-child policy, which for more than 35 years has limited couples to one child. Women found violating the policy are often subject to forced abortions, hefty fines and deportation.

Appalled by the decline in the birth rate in recent years, the government removed the rule. Couples were allowed to have two children in 2015 and raised to three in 2021. But policy changes and other government efforts, such as providing fiscal incentives, have had little effect, for a variety of reasons.

High living and education costs and skyrocketing housing prices are major factors. Many people—especially those in cities—face stagnant wages, fewer job opportunities, and grueling hours, making it difficult and expensive to raise one child, let alone three.

These problems are exacerbated by entrenched gender roles that often place the bulk of household and childcare responsibilities on women – who are more educated and financially independent than ever before but increasingly unwilling to take on the burden the burden of this inequality. Women also reported that they were discriminated against at work because of their marital or parental status, and employers were often unwilling to pay for maternity leave.

Some provinces and cities have already begun to introduce measures such as paternity leave and expanded childcare services. But many activists and women say that is not enough.

Frustration has only increased during the pandemic, with disenchanted younger generations whose livelihoods and wellbeing have been derailed by China’s uncompromising zero-Covid policy.

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A declining population could exacerbate the demographic problems China already faces. The country’s aging population and shrinking workforce are putting enormous pressure on younger generations.

Seniors in China now make up nearly a fifth of its population, officials said Tuesday. Some experts warn that the country could be on a similar path to Japan, which entered a three-decade period of economic stagnation in the early 1990s, coincident with an aging population.

“The Chinese economy is entering a critical transition phase where it can no longer rely on abundant, cost-competitive labor to drive industrialization and growth,” said Frederic Neumann, chief Asia economist at HSBC.

“If the supply of workers begins to shrink, productivity growth will need to pick up to maintain the economy’s rapid pace of expansion.”

China’s economy is already struggling, growing just 3% in 2022 – one of its worst performances in nearly half a century, thanks to months of Covid lockdowns and a historic downturn in the property market.

A shrinking workforce could make economic recovery more challenging if China resumes outbound travel and abandons many of the strict restrictions imposed over the past few years.

There are also social implications. China’s social safety net is likely to come under pressure because there will be fewer workers to fund programs such as pensions and health care — as demand for those services surges as the population ages.

There will also be fewer carers for the elderly, with many young people already working to support their parents and two sets of grandparents.

Population of other parts of China

China’s elderly risk being left behind

Given its role in driving the global economy, the challenges China faces could have implications for the rest of the world.

The pandemic illustrates how domestic problems in China are affecting the flow of trade and investment, with its lockdowns and border controls disrupting supply chains.

A slowdown in China would not only be a drag on global growth, but could also threaten China’s ambitions to surpass the United States as the world’s largest economy.

“China’s limited ability to respond to this demographic shift could lead to slower growth over the next 20 to 30 years and affect its ability to compete with the United States on the world stage,” the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in August last year. in an article on its website.

This year, China also appears likely to cede its status as the world’s most populous country to India, which is booming both in terms of population and economy.

“India is the biggest winner,” Yi Fuxian, who studies Chinese demographics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tweeted.

However, while Yi said India’s economy could one day surpass that of the US, it still has a way to go. India is the world’s fifth-largest economy, surpassing Britain last year, and some experts have expressed concern that the country is not creating enough jobs to keep up with its expanding workforce.

Still, some researchers say there may be a silver lining in the news from China.

“Depopulation is good, not bad, for climate change and the environment,” tweets Mary Gallagher, director of the International Institute at the University of Michigan.

Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist at NASA, argues that population decline should not be seen as “a scary thing,” but instead points to “the exponential acceleration of global warming and biodiversity loss.”

Chinese officials have stepped up efforts to encourage more families, including through a multi-agency plan released last year to strengthen maternity leave and provide tax breaks and other perks for families.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping promises In October, it is necessary to “improve the population development strategy” to ease the family’s economic pressure.

“[We will] Establish a policy system to increase the fertility rate and reduce the costs of maternity, childcare, and schooling. “We will implement a national strategy to actively respond to population aging, develop pension services and services, and provide better services for the elderly living alone. ”

Some places even offer cash incentives to encourage more births. A village in southern Guangdong province announced in 2021 that it would pay permanent residents up to $510 a month for babies under 2½ years old — which could bring the total to more than $15,000 per child. Elsewhere, housing subsidies are already offered for couples with many children.

But those efforts have yet to bear fruit, and many experts and residents say more comprehensive nationwide reforms are needed. After the news broke on Tuesday, a hashtag went viral on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform: “To encourage childbearing, we must first solve the worries of young people.”

“Our wages are low, while the rent is high, and the financial pressure is high. My future husband will work overtime until 3am every day until the end of the year,” wrote one Weibo user. “My survival and health are already in question, let alone having children.”

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