Having previously implemented the one-child policy to control population growth, China is now confronted with a contrasting dilemma. In 2023, the country experienced a population decline of 2 million individuals for the second consecutive year.
This has been attributed to a decrease in births and an increase in deaths following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, as announced by the government on Wednesday.
The population now stands at 1.4 billion, according to the statistics bureau, causing China to slip to the second position, trailing behind India in 2023 according to United Nations estimates.
Deaths surged by 690,000 to reach 11.1 million, more than double the increase observed in the previous year, a consequence of the COVID-19 outbreaks that began at the end of the preceding year and persisted through February of the following year.
The working-age population, defined as those aged 16 to 59, dwindled to 61% of the total population, marking a continual decline. Meanwhile, the proportion of citizens aged 60 and above increased to 21%. China’s official retirement age is 60 for men and 50 or 55 for women.
For the seventh consecutive year, the number of births declined. This could be a challenge for China’s economy and society. The declining birth rate contributes to an aging population, threatening long-term economic growth and placing a strain on the country’s capacity to support an aging population with a diminishing workforce.
Although the number of births dropped by 540,000, a relatively smaller decrease compared to previous years, approximately 9 million babies were born in 2023, half of the total in 2016.
These figures are based on surveys, and exclude Hong Kong and Macao, with a full census conducted every 10 years in China.
Despite the Chinese government’s efforts to encourage births by gradually relaxing the one-child policy from 2014 to 2016, allowing a second child, and permitting a third child in 2021, the results have been limited.
Factors such as delayed marriage, the choice to remain childless, and the high cost of education in urban areas with fierce academic competition have contributed to this challenge. Additionally, the population of women of childbearing age has also declined.
President Xi Jinping emphasized the necessity to strengthen guidance on young people’s perspectives on marriage, parenthood, and family during a meeting with the All-China Women’s Federation leadership in October. He also commented on the importance of promoting policies supporting parenthood and actively addressing the aging of the population.
He was quoted saying, “We must tell good stories about family customs, guide women to play a unique role in promoting the traditional virtues of the Chinese nation and establishing good family customs, and create a new culture of family civilization.”