On Tuesday, an official Chinese body analyzed growth figures in China. His conclusions were relayed by AFP. The country appears to have experienced some of the weakest growth in four decades in 2022, at a time when health restrictions and the housing crisis weighed heavily on activity. In terms of its population in particular, China recorded a historic decline in 2022, not seen since the early 1960s. This decline promises to last, perhaps until the end of the century, according to demographers. This will seriously affect the economy and the pension system. India should dethrone China this year as the country with the most inhabitants, the UN had already indicated.
The Chinese were once known for their large families. Thus, the population has doubled since the 1960s, to exceed the current 1.4 billion. However, by 2022, the number of births will have been only 9.56 million in mainland China, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported on Tuesday. A figure that did not compensate for the number of deaths recorded, which amounted to 10.41 million deaths that same year. The combination of the two phenomena produced a decline in the population (minus 850,000 people).
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This decline in population is the first since 1960-1961, when a famine that began in 1959 caused tens of millions of deaths as a result of errors in the economic policy of the “Great Leap Forward”. Paradoxically, this decline occurs despite the relaxation of birth control policy. Ten years ago, Chinese people were only allowed to have one child. From 2021, they can have three. China’s population could decline by an average of 1.1% each year, according to a study by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, whose data was released to AFP.
“The habit now of having small families”
In China, many factors must be taken into account to explain this historical phenomenon. The cost of living in the country has increased greatly, as has the cost of raising a child. On the other hand, women’s higher education level also delays pregnancies. The desire to have a child is also less strong among younger generations.
“Now there is also the custom of having small families, due to the one-child policy that has been in place for decades”, Xiujian Peng, a researcher specializing in Chinese demography at the University of Victoria in Australia, told AFP. Independent demographer He Yafu also points to AFP “the decline in the number of women of childbearing age, which was reduced by five million annually between 2016 and 2021”.
A century-old impact
The fertility rate has sunk to 1.15 children per woman in 2021, well below the generational replacement threshold (2.1). In France, it was 1.8 in 2020. “The decline and aging of the population (…) will have a profound impact on the Chinese economy, from now until 2100”warns Xiujian Peng.
“The decline in the active population is synonymous with an increase in labor costs” And this “It will affect China’s competitiveness in the world market”, points out. According to his team’s projections, without pension system reform, pension payments could account for 20% of GDP by 2100, up from 4% in 2020.
Many local authorities have put measures in place to encourage couples to procreate and counter these predictions. The metropolis of Shenzhen (South) has been offering a birth premium and allowances paid until the child turns three. Shandong province (east) offers 158 days of maternity leave (60 more than the national standard), starting with the first child.
Source : Le JDD