Beijing: China, the world’s most populous country, has reported a decline in its population for the second year in a row, according to the Bureau of Statistics. The total population of the country is estimated to be 1.4 billion, down by 20 lakhs from the previous year. The decline is attributed to the combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused a spike in deaths, and the low birth rate, which has been falling for seven consecutive years.
The COVID-19 outbreak, which originated in China in late 2019, has claimed more than 4.6 lakh lives in the country, according to official data. The pandemic also disrupted the normal functioning of society and economy, leading to reduced mobility and social interactions. Demographers had feared that the pandemic would have a severe impact on the population dynamics of China, which was already facing the challenges of an aging population and a shrinking workforce.
China’s average population is aging rapidly, as the proportion of people aged 60 and above increased from 17.9% in 2019 to 18.7% in 2020. This could pose a threat to the country’s economic growth and social stability, as the demand for health care and social security services would increase, while the supply of labor and innovation would decrease. The government has been trying to address this issue by raising the retirement age and encouraging the development of the elderly care industry.
The birth rate, which measures the number of births per 1,000 people, has declined from 10.48 in 2019 to 10.03 in 2020, the lowest level since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The number of births in 2020 was about 90 lakhs, down by 15% from the previous year. The main reasons for the low birth rate are delayed marriage and childbearing, the high cost of raising children, and the preference for smaller families.
China implemented the one-child policy in 1979 to curb population growth and alleviate the pressure on limited resources. The policy was relaxed in 2013, allowing couples to have two children if one of them was an only child. In 2016, the policy was officially abolished, and all couples were allowed to have two children. However, these measures have failed to boost the birth rate, as many couples still opt for having one or no child.
The government has been taking steps to encourage more births, such as providing financial incentives, improving maternal and child health care, and promoting gender equality. However, experts say that these policies are not enough to reverse the trend of population decline and that more comprehensive and long-term reforms are needed to address the underlying social and economic factors that affect people’s fertility decisions.