Is China’s Population About to Start Shrinking?

By Malavika Suresh, July 22, 2022

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The Chinese population is projected to shrink this year for the first time since the Great Famine that took place between 1959 and 1961.

China is currently the world's most populous country, with a population of more than 1.4 billion people – more than one sixth of the entire world’s population.

However, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics, the country’s population increased by only 480,000 between 2020 and 2021. In contrast, the annual population growth a decade ago was 8 million. 

In the late 80s, China’s fertility rate was 2.6, before remaining a steady 1.7 from the mid 90s. In 2020, it dropped to 1.3, and then again to 1.15 in 2021. In comparison, both Australia and the United States have a fertility rate of 1.6.

This decline comes despite China abandoning the one-child policy in 2016, and even introducing the three-child policy – backed by tax benefits and other incentives – last year.

READ MORE: China Adopts New Three-Child Policy

The rapidly decreasing fertility rate has been attributed to a number of factors, including people having become used to small families, the rising cost of living, increasing marriage age (which means women are giving birth later in life and having fewer children) and strict COVID measures.

Based on the current trend, the annual fertility rate is forecast to drop from 1.15 to 1.1 from now to 2030... and forecast to remain there. The Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences is anticipating an annual decline of 1.1% in the Chinese population, resulting in a population of only 587 million in 2100. 

The working age population of the country is set to decrease at an even larger annual rate – 1.73% – forcing China to direct resources towards their increasing elderly population. Needing to invest in retirement and healthcare for the elderly, the government will have to sacrifice economic growth and productivity.  

As a result, developed countries who rely on imported goods, will likely look elsewhere to source them. Emerging economies such as India, with a rapidly growing population (and the nation set to overtake China as the world's most populous) will likely take China’s place in the manufacturing sector in the following years.

[Cover image by Nicky Almasy]

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