The number of births in China tumbled 10% last year to hit its lowest level on record, indicating the country is facing a demographic crisis. It comes despite a slew of government efforts to support parents and amid increasing alarm that the country could become demographically imbalanced.
According to a report by the National Health Commission, China had just 9.56 million births in 2022. That is the lowest figure since records began in 1949. The population of the world’s second-largest economy is expected to shrink next year for the first time in decades, causing many experts to warn of economic troubles ahead.
The declining number of newborns is blamed on high childcare and education costs, soaring unemployment and job insecurity, and gender discrimination that deters families from having more children or even having any at all. It also stems from the one-child policy implemented for decades until it ended in 2016.
The government has been offering various incentives to boost the birth rate. Couples that follow the rules are given a monthly stipend, extra pension benefits in their older years, and preferential hospital treatment. They can also enjoy free homes, a tonne of free water a month, and extra land allowances. They are also given priority for government jobs and better school entrance exams.
But these efforts are having little effect. China’s birth rate has declined for the past five years and is forecast to fall even further this year. Experts believe that if the trend continues, China will be caught in a “fertility trap” where an aging population and soaring social care costs will slow economic growth.
China’s leaders are worried about the country becoming old before it gets rich. Still, there’s another problem that needs to be more attention: a declining population means a smaller pool of workers. That would likely push wages and make it harder for the government to control inflation.
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