Chinese population drops for the first time since 1961: causes and future projections

Elizabeth Smith

For the first time in more than 60 years, the population in China has dropped. Thus, confirming in even sharper terms the issue of the demographic crisis that is affecting the most populous nation on the planet.

“At the end of 2022, the national population was 1,411 million”, Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics writes in a note. Pointing out that this is a “decrease of 0.85 million compared to the end of 2021.”

An all-time record for the People’s Republic in the year just past, accompanied by one of the worst slumps in economic growth in nearly half a century. In 2022, GDP grew by 3.0 percent, missing the official target of “about 5.5 percent”. And holding back sharply from the 8.4 percent growth in 2021.

Excluding the 2.2 percent expansion after the onset of the pandemic in 2020, it is the worst result since 1976, the last year of the decade-long Cultural Revolution that marked the Chinese economy.

Other macro indicators reported in December, such as retail sales and industrial production, released along with GDP data, exceeded expectations but remained weak.

Chinese population and economy drops, GDP flexes under ‘Zero Covid’ policy

According to official data, China’s GDP grew 2.9 percent year-on-year between October and December. Thus slower than the 3.9 percent pace in the third quarter. The rate still exceeded the 0.4 percent expansion in the second quarter and market expectations of a 1.8 percent increase. On a quarterly basis, GDP stalled at 0.0 percent in the fourth quarter, compared with 3.9 percent growth in July-September.

Beijing last month lifted strict anti-Covid measures that had severely restrained economic activity in 2022, but the easing also led to a sharp increase in Covid cases that economists say could hamper growth in the short term.

“In 2022, the foundation of economic recovery is not solid as the global situation is still complicated and severe, while the triple domestic pressure of demand contraction, supply shock and weakening expectations is still looming,” the National Bureau of Statistics noted.

Chinese leaders are set to announce their GDP growth target for 2023 in March, when the new legislature of the National People’s Congress-China’s parliament – the first since President Xi Jinping consolidated power in October 2022 – will take office.

Chinese population drop, the falling birth rate

Returning to the sharp decline in the birth rate, the data refer to mainland China alone, thus excluding the territories of Hong Kong and Macau. China’s population is rapidly aging as a result of a sharp decline in the birth rate. Which in 2022 slipped to its lowest since 1949.

The last time China is believed to have experienced a population decline was in the late 1950s. This was due to Mao Zedong’s disastrous campaign for collective farming and industrialization. The resulting massive famine led to the deaths of tens of millions of people.

Despite strict policies to contain the pandemic, China’s industrial production is holding. Industrial production grew 1.3 percent in December from a year earlier. Thus lowing from a 2.2 percent increase in November. While retail sales, a key indicator for consumption, fell 1.8 percent last month, extending November’s 5.9 percent decline.

Then in 2022, official data showed that real estate investment in China fell 10.0 percent year-on-year. This is the first decline since records began in 1999. And, property sales slumped to their highest level since 1992, suggesting that government support measures have had little impact so far.

In recent weeks Beijing authorities have launched a series of supportive policies aimed at homebuyers and developers to ease a long-standing liquidity squeeze. This has hit builders and delayed the completion of many housing projects.

Global population projections, India will overcome China as most populous state in 2023

The year 2022 was a historic one for China. Deaths recorded in the former Middle Empire exceeded births for the first time in six decades.

Numbers in hand, the national population began to shrink. Specifically, falling to 1.412 billion from the 1.413 billion recorded in 2021, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics.

This is a major reversal. According to United Nations forecasts, China will slightly exceed 10 million births compared to India’s 23 million children.

Put another way, this year India is expected to overtake China and blow its crown as the most populous country on the globe. To be more precise, India’s population is expected to surpass China’s on April 14. The next day New Delhi should find itself ruling over 1,425,775,850 inhabitants.

Read also: How many of us in the future: is global population reaching 8 billion a problem?

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