China's population growth is slowing, raising questions over global ambitions


Category:  News & Politics

Via:  perrie-halpern  •  one month ago  •  15 comments

By:   Adela Suliman

China's population growth is slowing, raising questions over global ambitions
China's official census has shown its population growth is stalling, potentially jeopardizing Beijing's economic and global ambitions.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

China's population growth is slowing and is close to a standstill — throwing into jeopardy its global economic and geopolitical ambitions, experts warn.

The world's second-largest economy reported an increase of 72 million people in the last 10 years in the once-a-decade census, to a total of 1.1411 billion.

But the National Bureau of Statistics said annual growth over the last decade averaged 0.53 percent, down 0.04 percent in the previous decade. The slowdown bolsters evidence of what economists refer to as a demographic time bomb, where many Chinese people could grow old before they grow rich.

Any slowdown is politically sensitive for the ruling Communist Party, which garners much of its legitimacy from a booming economy and social prosperity. For many, having the largest population and standing army in the world are a source of everyday national pride.

A dwindling population could affect China's economic domination, disturb social structures and halt foreign policy goals to become a global superpower.

The report said President Xi Jinping hailed the census, in which more than 1 billion Chinese citizens participated, as "a major survey of national conditions and strength in the new era and a major event for the Party and the country."

The highly-anticipated census, which saw officials conduct door-to-door data collection, was initially due to be published in early April. Instead it was delayed as it required "more preparation work," China's National Bureau of Statistics told The Financial Times newspaper.

NBC News did not receive a reply to a request for comment from the National Bureau of Statistics on the report's delay.

Chinese state media and official bodies pushed back after the newspaper reported the census was set to show a population decline for the first time since a famine that killed millions four decades ago.

Speaking ahead of the census release, Yi Fu-Xian, a senior reproductive scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said a population decline hitting sooner than expected would impact China's "economic, social, science and technology, national defense, foreign affairs and other policies."

It would also have geopolitical implications if neighboring India quickly surpassed China as the world's most populous country, he added, causing Beijing to lose face and be overtaken by a rival.

"The Chinese authorities have so far been afraid to publish the main data of the census, probably because the data do not match expectations. The census results will shock the world," Yi, author of "Big Country with an Empty Nest," said.

With China at risk of entering an irreversible population slide, policymakers are under pressure to come up with family-planning incentives and arrest the falling birth rate.

In an encouraging sign for Chinese policymakers, the proportion of people 14 and under increased to 17.95 percent — an increase from 16.6 percent a decade ago, a low figure caused by the country's decades-old one-child policy, which was revoked in 2016.

However, despite an increase in young people, the number of older people also grew to 18.7 percent of the total, up from 13.26 percent a decade ago and about 10 percent in 2000.

Any future reduction in the proportion of young people could add increased burden to China's working-age population and weigh on productivity.

Kent Deng, professor of economic history at the London School of Economics, said China's population had shown a "clear trend" of decline at a rate between 3 and 4 percent per year over the last 50 years.

He said the dip in population would lead to a decrease in China's labor force and working population and could see more extensions to the country's retirement age.

"Less children will impact on the military," he added, and possibly the long-term stability of the ruling Communist Party.

Chinese commuters wear protective masks as they ride bikes and scooters in the central business district during rush hour in Beijing, 2020.Kevin Frayer / Getty Images file

China's birth rate has continued to fall despite public campaigns and incentives.

That is in part because urban couples, despite parental pressure to have children, increasingly value their independence and careers more than raising a family.

"I have no children and do not plan to have children," Siqi Xiang, 23, a media worker in Beijing, said.

"The cost is too high," she added. Along with "the awakening of female consciousness, we no longer think that fertility is a life-task that must be completed like the generation of our parents."

For Tang Li, 41, a legal worker from the southeastern port city of Xiamen and a mother of one, a second baby is not on her agenda "no matter what policy the government have," she said.

Tang said if she were younger and had fewer financial burdens, she may have considered another child but acknowledged that professional development, quality of life and changing expectations among women had a role to play in families opting for fewer offspring.

At the other end of the social spectrum, an aging population was also a worry, Tang added, with grandparents undertaking substantial child care responsibilities.

"There is nothing we can do. I just decide to save more money by ourselves and exercise better," she added. "I am a staunch patriot ... it would be good to rely on the country but it will definitely not work to rely solely on children."

People exercise in a park in Shanghai, China, April 2021. China's population is aging more quickly than most of the world's developed economies due to decades of family planning aimed at halting population growth.Qilai Shen / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

An unusually frank report from the People's Bank of China in March urged the ruling Communist Party to "fully liberalize and encourage childbirth," it said, citing fears over pension deficits and an expensive, aging population to maintain.

The report also said China could lose out to neighboring India and to the United States as it nears the end of its 'demographic divide' — an economic benefit where the working age population outnumbers the nonworking population.

The research noted that the U.S. also benefits from mass immigration, unlike China.

Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau published its own data that showed overall the American population stood at 331,449,281 as of April 2020 — although slowing, a 7.4 percent increase over the previous decade. The American birth rate also plunged last year, government data released in May found.

"China's aging problem is much more serious than officially announced," scientist Yi said, warning increasing retirement ages could put undue pressure on the economy and "lead to social unrest."

Dawn Liu, Isabel Wang, Vincent Wan and Reuters contributed.


jrDiscussion - desc
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
1  Buzz of the Orient    one month ago

There is an error in the total population figure for China in the article - it is 1.411 billion, not 1.1411 billion.  Birth rates are dropping in China as they are in many countries, including Canada and the USA.  Since the retirement age in China has been 60 for men and 55 for women for four decades, which is lower than in most industrialized nations, I have no doubt that the government will increase it incrementally due to the increasing health and longevity of the elderly population in order to alleviate the pressures caused by an aging population and decreasing birth rates.  The article seems to predict a doomed future, but I wouldn't count on such a scenario happening soon. 

Sophomore Silent
1.1  zuksam  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @1    one month ago

It seems like a good thing to me. It has to happen sooner or later we can't run our countries like a pyramid scheme. It's not like these problems are insurmountable so maybe if China deals with it well the rest of the world will stop breeding us into an Apocalypse. Asian Religions are big on Balance so they should embrace population stabilization and hopefully it becomes a world wide trend. Governments and Economists have to learn growth isn't everything stability is good too.

Professor Principal
1.2  sandy-2021492  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @1    one month ago
Since the retirement age in China has been 60 for men and 55 for women for four decades, which is lower than in most industrialized nations,

I had no idea the retirement age was so low.  Yes, raising it incrementally seems likely the best solution to prevent the burden of running the country from falling too heavily on the shoulders of those of working age.

Professor Expert
2  FLYNAVY1    one month ago

I think a bigger problem for China was the one child rule.  As many female babies were "disposed of" in preference for male children back just a few decades ago, there would seem to be around a 50-million imbalance in males to females in that country.  If that figure is correct, that's quite a bit of pent up frustration.  I also know that there is a trend for Chinese some women to be selecting non-PRC males as husbands in an effort to "trade up" so to speak.  This only adds to the problem. 

Sean Treacy
Professor Guide
2.1  Sean Treacy  replied to  FLYNAVY1 @2    one month ago

, th ere would seem to be around a 50-million imbalance in males to females in that country.

This is the result...

Professor Expert
2.1.1  FLYNAVY1  replied to  Sean Treacy @2.1    one month ago

I'd say the article is spot on after my extended stay in Shanghai/Suzhou a couple of years ago.  I would be interested to hear Buzz's input on this.

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
2.1.2  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  FLYNAVY1 @2.1.1    one month ago

My input on the topic is in the first comment.  As for the one-child policy, mistakes are made and corrected.  At least it seems to have ended up giving Chinese women seeking to marry an advantage.  By the way, Chinese women enjoy more equality here than I've seen elsewhere.  The best doctors I've had here were women, as were the best bank managers.  My wife's sister-in-law is the CFO of a big corporation.  Of course Biden beats the CCP when it comes to inclusive governance appointments.

Professor Principal
2.2  Gordy327  replied to  FLYNAVY1 @2    one month ago

The problem is China is already overpopulated, which necessitated the 1-child rule in the first place, as a means of curbing population growth.

Professor Principal
2.2.1  sandy-2021492  replied to  Gordy327 @2.2    one month ago

It is, and was, but the one-child rule was extremely short-sighted.  The government had to have known there would be a cultural preference for boys, and that girls would be abandoned or killed, and that female fetuses would be selectively aborted.  If they didn't know, they were foolish.  In trying to solve one problem via mandate, they created lots more.

Professor Expert
2.2.2  FLYNAVY1  replied to  sandy-2021492 @2.2.1    one month ago

Even through and into the 1990s, the Chinese culture maintained a large difference of "value" between male and female offspring.

When working on a 7-month program in Shanghai, I found:

  • promotions and titles were given to men simply for that reason.
  • the women were much better at their jobs than the men they reported to
  • If I needed a task done, like heading up purchasing for a project.... I promoted a woman to do it.  The job was well done.  The woman was very appreciative. and the men not selected were shocked at my decision.
Professor Principal
2.2.3  Gordy327  replied to  sandy-2021492 @2.2.1    one month ago
In trying to solve one problem via mandate, they created lots more.

True. But there was no simple solution to overpopulation that would not result in other problems down the road. Until the population drops to the point where balance and stability is achieved, there are going to be issues coming up in the interim. But continuous and unchecked population growth will only add to the current problem.

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
2.2.4  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Gordy327 @2.2    one month ago

As the Chinese population continues to gentrify and achieve middle class status, as is now being determined the birth rate appears to be falling.  India is bound to overtake the population leadership soon enough, if their problems in containing the virus doesn't decimate its population. 

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
2.2.5  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  FLYNAVY1 @2.2.2    one month ago

That was more than two decades ago, and as I pointed out in my comment    above, things are different these days.

Professor Expert
2.2.6  FLYNAVY1  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @2.2.5    one month ago

Buzz.... My project in China was in 2019... thus my comments.  It's what I found in a large manufacturing operation in Shanghai & Suzhou.

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Principal
2.2.7  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  FLYNAVY1 @2.2.6    one month ago

I wasn't aware you were in China only a year or so ago.  The first sentence of your comment misled me into thinking you worked on the project more than 20 years ago - so tell us about the project.  How many corporations were you dealing with?


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