BEIJING – Birth data for 2021 released so far by 29 provinces and regions in China showed that the number of new births in 2021 was the lowest in decades in several provinces, and only 6 of the top 10 provinces with the most large number of births exceeded 500,000.
The top 10 birth provinces are Guangdong, Henan, Shandong, Sichuan, Hebei, Anhui, Guangxi, Jiangsu, Hunan, and Guizhou. Guangdong province alone had more than one million newborns.
The number of births in central China’s Hunan Province fell below 500,000 for the first time in nearly 60 years, according to the province. Henan Province in central China, China’s third most populous city, recorded fewer than 800,000 births for the first time since 1978. The number of births in east China’s Jiangxi Province fell below 400,000 for the first time since the 1950s.
China’s total population growth rate has slowed significantly and is expected to turn negative during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-25), said Yang Wenzhuang, head of population and family affairs at the National Health Commission, said on the 2022 Annual Conference of China Population Association on Thursday.
Chinese demographers have predicted that negative population growth will be the dominant trend for a long time in the coming years, and that improving the overall quality of the population and changing economic development plans are key to solving the problem.
“This is an inevitable result of a long period of low fertility rate,” Huang Wenzheng, a demography expert and senior researcher at the Center for China and Globalization, was quoted by Global Times.
“It can be predicted that China’s birth rate will continue to shrink for more than a century and the birth rate in first-tier cities will continue to fall. The third-child policy may alleviate some of the problems, but it is unlikely to reverse the trend in the short term.”
According to the National Health Commission, the average number of children born to women of reproductive age was 1.64 in 2021, compared to 1.76 in 2017 and 1.73 in 2019. Of the 10.62 million people born in the year, those born in 2021, 41.4 percent are the second child, and 14.5 percent are the third child or more, according to a statistical release on China’s health development in 2021 released by the National Health Commission on July 12.
“Low fertility rates mean that there are fewer potential mothers and fathers. The number of people willing to have children is also shrinking fast at the same time. Add these two factors together and we now see the trend of rapid shrinkage in natural population growth rate,” Huang said.
Lu Jiehua, a sociology professor at Peking University, said on Sunday that given current demographic trends, China will inevitably enter a period of negative population growth for a long time, although there may be fluctuations during this period.
To reduce the cost of childbirth, parenthood and education, many cities and regions have implemented a series of policies, including reducing the cost of childbirth and education, to combat for long-term balanced population growth.
For example, the city of Panzhihua in southwest China’s Sichuan province, which has a population of 1.23 million, announced in July 2021 that it planned to distribute money to couples who give birth to more than one child, the first such official incentive to have more stimulated births as part of a broader effort to reverse China’s longer-term population decline.
“The overall arrangement of the social and economic development needs to be adjusted to adapt to the new pattern of population growth,” Lu said.
“For a long time in the past, China has relied on demographic dividend to drive economic development. In the future, the demographic dividend may gradually decline or go into debt. In this case, we should explore advantages in areas beyond the demographic dividend to fully improve the overall quality of the population and create new conditions for economic development.”
Addressing young people’s concerns and pressures to have and raise children, stabilizing house prices and streamlining supportive policies could help ease the pressure of negative population growth, experts said.
- Editor / additional report by Global Times