The birth rate in China has fallen to its lowest level since the end of the 1970s. The statistics office in Beijing on Tuesday also vaguely explained the 18 percent drop in births to twelve million last year with the Corona pandemic. But experts see the high cost of housing, education and health in China and the dwindling willingness to marry as the real reasons for the disturbing development.
The birth rate in the most populous country slipped back into single digits for the first time, with 8.52 newborns per 1,000 people - the lowest since 1978, statisticians reported in their new yearbook. Due to the declining birth rate and the stable number of deaths, the billion-strong nation is thus moving toward zero growth.
"If the trend continues, we will have a population decline in a few years," Professor Song Jian of Beijing People's University told the Sixth Tone newspaper. "While the young population is expected to shrink even faster, the problem of aging will worsen, which will hurt economic and social development."
The statistics office said the population growth rate for the 10 years to 2020 was 0.53 percent - down from 0.57 percent in the years from 2000 to 2010, and that the fertility rate of women of childbearing age had fallen to 1.3. This is significantly lower than the 2.1 that experts consider necessary for a stable population.
The end of the controversial one-child policy in place since 1979 six years ago led only briefly to a slight upswing until the number of births in 2018 fell back below 2015 levels. As a result, there are 36 percent fewer births today than in 2016, when there were 18.83 million, according to more recent data in the yearbook.
In response to the declining birth rate and rapid aging, three children were also allowed in May this year. The government is also making efforts to make it easier for young couples to have children. The cost of education has been lowered. Financial aid has been granted and maternity or parental leave made easier.
But the willingness to marry is already declining. The number of marriages fell in 2020 for the seventh year in a row, according to the yearbook. Only 8.1 million couples married in 2020 - a 12 percent drop from the previous year.
In a recent Youth League survey, nearly half of women said they did not want to marry or were unsure whether they would tie the knot. Among men, the figure was one in four. Two hundred and ninety-five women and men ages 18 to 26 in cities were surveyed. More than half said that giving birth and raising children is too expensive. Women also frequently point out that motherhood has a negative impact on their professional careers.
As a result, fewer and fewer working people in the second-largest economy are having to care for more and more old people. As the census in May showed, the aging of the 1.4 billion-strong population is progressing inexorably: the number of Chinese over 60 has risen by 5.44 percent since 2010 to 264 million. Almost one in five Chinese (18.7 percent) is now older than 60. At the same time, the working-age population between the ages of 15 and 59 continues to decline.
Photo by Omar Lopez