Published on 17/01/2024 at 12:18
The cost of education, keeping young people away from marriage or women's inclusion in education and work, has caused the birth rate to decline in China, whose population in 2022 fell for the first time since 1960.
After being overtaken by India last year as the world's most populous country, China stopped implementing strict birth control policies and began trying to strengthen them, with little success, through subsidies and pro-fertility propaganda.
The National Institute of Statistics stated that “at the end of 2023, the national population reached 1.409 billion (…), a decrease of 2.08 million compared to the end of 2022.”
The decline is more than double what was recorded in 2022, when China's population fell by 850,000 people, the first number to decline since 1960.
The calculation only concerns individuals with Chinese nationality living on the mainland, excluding foreigners and residents of the semi-autonomous territories of Hong Kong and Macau.
The Statistical Authority explained that “in 2023, the number of births reached 9.02 million, with a birth rate of 6.39 per thousand people.”
“It is impossible to retreat”
But this has failed to reverse the demographic decline of a country that has long made its vast labor force an engine of economic dynamism.
Independent demographer He Yafu told AFP that if in the 1960s the average number of children per woman was more than 7, in 2022 it has decreased to 1.05, which is worrying.
How can this change in trend be explained?
Among the main reasons are the high cost of raising a child and the growing distrust of younger generations towards the institution of marriage, which is a mandatory step in China before giving birth.
Moreover, the increasing number of women enrolling in higher education has delayed the age of first pregnancy.
“It is impossible to reverse the trend of population decline in China,” He Yafu said.
This analyst explained, “Even if fertility were encouraged, it is impossible for the fertility rate to rise to the generation replacement rate, because younger generations have now changed their concept of fertility and generally do not want to have more children.”
To contain this decline, the expert calls for more family assistance and child care solutions and enhanced children's access to day care.
But it also generates social challenges. In China, tradition obliges younger generations to care for their elderly family members to a greater extent than in Western societies.
Most couples now consist of two adults who are only children and will be responsible for taking care of their four elderly parents.
To offset this burden, the authorities this week presented a $1 billion plan to meet the service needs of the elderly.
He estimates that encouraging migration to halt demographic decline is “not possible” because “in the coming decades, China's population will decline by several hundred million people.”
He noted that this would involve bringing in “hundreds of millions of people” while “the vast majority of Chinese currently oppose immigration and the authorities are very restricted on this issue.”
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