China birth numbers expected to fall to lowest level since 2000, creating new economic and social challenges
- Births last year will drop below 15 million despite Beijing’s relaxation of its one-child policy, according to the state-run tabloid ‘Global Times’
- Increasing elderly population raising fears of economic stagnation despite introduction of two-child policy in 2016
The number of children born in China in 2018 is expected to have dropped to the lowest level since 2000 after a year that “will be remembered as a historical turning point for Chinese population”, signalling a “demographic crisis” that threatens already struggling economic growth prospects, mainland media and researchers said.
The final figure for China births in 2018 will drop below 15 million, or more than two million fewer than in 2017, the state-run tabloid Global Times reported.
If confirmed, it will fall far short of the family planning authority’s previous estimates of up to 20 million births.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics is expected to release nationwide birth figures for 2018 later this month, but data released by local authorities has all pointed to a considerable drop in births.
Yi Fuxian, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a long-standing critic of China’s family planning policy, and Su Jian, an economist at Peking University, co-authored a paper arguing that China may have started to see a long-lasting fall in its population.
“The year 2018 will be remembered as a historical turning point for Chinese population,” Yi and Su wrote in a copy of the paper sent to the South China Morning Post.
“The Chinese population has started to fall, the ageing problems has accelerated, and economic vitality has weakened.
“A great nation, which once upon a time accounted for nearly a third of the world’s total population, is gradually degenerating into a small group of the old and the weak thanks to wrong demographic policies.”
There were only 64,753 in the first 11 months of 2018 in Liaocheng in Shandong province, one of China’s most populous provinces, a fall of 26 per cent from the same period in 2017, according to the Dazhong Daily, the local official newspaper.
In Qingdao, another city in Shandong, births between January and November plunged 21 per cent on a year-on-year basis to 81,112, according to the local municipal family planning authority.
Hua Changchun, an economist with Guotai Junan Securities, wrote in a research note that the number of births across China could be as low as 14 million if the 20 per cent fall was replicated nationwide.
He added that such a fall in births could have a far-reaching impact on China’s economic and social development, including eroding demand for property in the future.
“A sharp drop in new births is probably the beginning of a long new era, during which population will see contraction,” Hua said.
The process of a quickly ageing society, highlighted by fewer births, a shrinking age group between 20 and 50, and a surge in the elderly population, has started in China, which is set to affect the economy, Hua added.
Beijing had previously expected a surge in births after it abolished its one-child policy for a two-child policy in 2016, but after decades of economic boom and tight birth controls, the population has proven to be more reluctant to take advantage of the change than the government had anticipated.
Ren Zeping, chief economist at property developer Evergrande Group, wrote in a note this week that China is walking into a “demographic crisis” as the second-child policy relaxation has failed to the boost fertility rate, which shows the number of children a women is expected to have during her life.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics stopped publishing fertility data in 2016.
“China must immediately lift birth controls and encourage people to have babies,” Ren wrote.
Births in 2016 rose to 17.86 million from 16.55 million in 2015 following the introduction of the two-child policy, but the acceleration was short-lived as figures fell to 17.23 million in 2017 despite the government also offering incentives for people to maximise the new quota.
Beijing’s new approach has seen the government switch from forced abortions and heavy fines during its one-child policy to providing childcare services and encouraging people to have more children.
In the latest move, the China Family Planning Association, which is overseen by the State Council, will “focus on maternity care and family health services”.