China’s Population Growth Falls Closer to Zero – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
China’s weak population growth is falling to zero as fewer couples have children. This was shown by government data on Tuesday, adding to the burden of a shrinking workforce on an aging society.
The population rose by 72 million people over the past 10 years to 1.411 billion in 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics said, according to a once-a-decade census. Annual growth averaged 0.53%, a decrease of 0.04% over the past decade.
Chinese heads of state and government have been enforcing birth limits since 1980 to curb population growth. However, they fear that the number of people of working age is falling too quickly, disrupting efforts to run a prosperous economy. They have lowered the birth lines, but couples are put off by high costs, cramped housing, and discrimination against mothers in the workplace.
“The labor force is still plentiful,” said Statistics Bureau director Ning Jizhe at a press conference.
The proportion of children in the population increased compared to 2010, while the proportion of children aged 60 and over increased faster. The pool of potential workers aged 15 to 59 shrank to 894 million, a decrease of around 5% from the high of 925 million in 2011.
Changes in birth limits and other guidelines “encouraged rebound in the birth population,” Ning said. However, he said that 12 million babies were born last year, an 18% decrease from the 2019 report of 14.6 million.
China, along with Thailand and some other rapidly aging Asian developing countries, faces the challenge of whether it can get rich before it gets old. Some forecasters warn China of a “demographic time bomb”.
Given the sensitivity of the issue, last month the Bureau of Statistics took the unusual step of announcing 2020 population growth but did not provide a grand total. That seemed like an attempt to reassure businesses and investors after the Financial Times reported that the census may have seen a surprising decline.
“We are more concerned about the rapid decline in the working-age population,” said Lu Jiehua, a professor of population studies at Peking University.
The population of potential workers aged 15 to 59 will drop from three quarters of the total in 2011 to just over half by 2050, according to Lu.
“When the population gets too old, immigration will make it impossible to solve the problem,” Lu said. “It has to be treated early.”
Couples who want a child face tremendous challenges.
Many share overcrowded apartments with their parents. Childcare is expensive and maternity leave is short. Most single mothers are excluded from health insurance and social benefits.
Some women fear that giving birth could affect their careers.
“If you have a child, you take maternity leave, but will you still have that position after your leave?” He Yiwei, who is returning from the United States after completing his master’s degree, said: “In relation to men, women have to sacrifice more at work.”
Japan, Germany and some other rich countries face the same challenge of supporting the aging population with fewer workers. However, they can draw on investments in factories, technology, and foreign assets. In contrast, China is still a middle-income country with labor-intensive agriculture and manufacturing.
The decline in the working-age population “will limit China’s potential economic growth,” said Yue Su of the Economist Intelligence Unit in a report. This is a “strong incentive to introduce productivity-enhancing reforms”.
The International Monetary Fund is forecasting Chinese economic growth of 8.4% for this year after a recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. The ruling Communist Party wants to double production per person from 2020 to 2035, which would require annual growth of around 4.7%.
Numbers reported Thursday reflect an 11.8 million people increase, or 0.8% from the official 2019 estimate, when the government says the population rose above 1.4 billion people for the first time.
The working-age population fell from 70.1% a decade ago to 63.3% of the total population. The group up to 14 years of age grew by 1.3 percentage points to 17.9%. Those over 60 – a group of 264 million people who alone would be the fourth largest country in the world – rose 5.4 percentage points to 18.7% of the population.
The party made its biggest move in 2015 when rules restricting many couples to only having one child were relaxed to allow for two.
However, China’s birth rate, which paralleled trends in South Korea, Thailand, and other Asian economies, fell before the one-child rule. The average number of children per mother fell from over six in the 1960s to under three by 1980, according to the World Bank.
According to demographers, the official birth lines have hidden, which would have meant a further decline in the number of children per family.
The one-child limit, enforced with threats of fines or job loss, has led to abuses, including forced abortions. Preferential treatment for sons resulted in parents killing girls, leading to warnings that millions of men might not be able to find a wife, creating social tension.
Thursday’s data showed that there are 105.7 million men and boys in China for every 100 women and girls, or about 33 million other men.
The ruling party says policies have prevented food and water shortages by preventing up to 400 million potential births. However, demographers say that if China had followed the Asian trends, the number of extra babies without control might have been a few million.
After the limits were relaxed in 2015, many couples had a second with a child, but total births declined because fewer had any at all.
Some researchers say China’s population is already shrinking.
Yi Fuxian, a senior scientist in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says the population declined in 2018. His book “Big Country with an Empty Nest” spoke out against the one-child limits.
“China’s economic, social, education, technology, defense and foreign policies are based on wrong numbers,” said Yi.
Chinese regulators are talking about raising the official retirement age to 55 in order to expand the pool of workers.
Female professionals embrace the opportunity to stay in a satisfying career. But others refuse to be forced to work more years. And if workers stay in the workplace and are unable to look after children, it could keep their daughters from having more.
The latest data brings China closer to being overtaken by India as the most populous country, which is expected to happen by 2025.
India’s population was estimated at 1.38 billion last year by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 1.5% behind China. The agency says India should grow 0.9% annually through 2025.
Wu reported from Taipei. AP researcher Yu Bing and video producer Liu Zheng in Beijing contributed to this.