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China’s population shrinks for first time in 60+ years

China's President Xi Jinping. (Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Abaca Press/TNS)
January 17, 2023

China’s population shrank last year for the first time in six decades, possibly marking the onset of a demographic crisis as the country positions itself as a world superpower.

New data from the country’s National Statistics Bureau shows that China had about 850,000 fewer people at the end of 2022 than at the end of 2021, Bloomberg reported

It’s the first-ever population drop since 1961, when the Great Famine – the deadliest in history – ended. The decline was revealed shortly after other data showed China’s gross domestic product grew at the second-slowest pace since the 1970s last year, as reported by Bloomberg.

The drop in population could hamper China’s economic growth and seal the United Nations’ recent prediction that this year, India will overtake China as the most populous country in the world.

Zhang Zhiwei, president and chief economist of Hong Kong-based Pinpoint Asset Management, said “the population will likely trend down from here in coming years.”

“This is very important, with implications for potential growth and domestic demand,” Zhang said.

Census Bureau data shows that the U.S. resident population grew by 0.4 percent last year, Fortune reported. That increase followed a near-flatline in 2021 and is mainly attributable to more migrants coming to the U.S. than the number of people leaving, according to the census. 

The United Nations was forecasting as recently as three years ago that China’s population would peak in 2031. But that was revised last year to an estimated peak at the start of 2022, Bloomberg reported.

The population mainly shrank due to a decline in the number of newborns, according to National Statistics Bureau head Kang Yi.

“That’s mainly a result of drop in people’s willingness to have babies, the delay in marriage and pregnancy, as well as a fall in number of women of child-bearing age,” Kang said after a press briefing Tuesday.

China has moved to get ahead of its slowing population growth partially by relaxing its restrictions on childbearing. The country limited couples to one child beginning in 1980, but that has been raised to three children in recent years.