China’s population fell last year for the first time in six decades, a historic turn that is expected to mark the beginning of a long period of declining population, with deep implications for its economy and the world.
The country’s National Bureau of Statistics reported a decline of about 850,000 people for a population of 1.41175 billion in 2022, marking the first decline since 1961, the last year of China’s Great Famine.
That can make India the most populous nation in the world. UN experts predicted last year that India would have a population of 1.412 billion in 2022, although they did not expect the South Asian nation to overtake China until this year. India, however, only collects population figures every 10 years, and the most recent census, originally scheduled for 2021, was postponed due to the pandemic.
In the long term, UN experts see China’s population shrinking by 109 million by 2050, more than three times the previous forecast in 2019.
China’s economic growth from 2022, one of the weakest on record, post-pandemic policy thus faces a test. Domestic demographers lament that China will get older before it gets richer, slowing the economy as incomes fall and government debt rises due to rising health and welfare costs.
“China’s demographic and economic prospects are much bleaker than expected. China will need to adjust its social, economic, defense and foreign policies,” said demographer Yi Fuxian. He added that the country’s shrinking labor force and declining output would further exacerbate high prices and high inflation in the United States and Europe.
“Economic growth will have to depend more on productivity growth,” added Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management.
Kang Yi, head of the national statistics bureau, dismissed concerns about the population decline, telling reporters that “the overall labor supply still exceeds demand.”
China’s birth rate last year was just 6.77 births per 1,000 people, down from a rate of 7.52 births in 2021 and marking the lowest birth rate on record.
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