Beijing, births at historic low and boom in elderly
Around 10 million children born in 2021, just 480,000 more than the number of people who have died. The population may have reached its peak. The demographic slowdown is being affected by high cost of living and new social habits. The situation is a further threat to the country's economic growth.
Beijing (AsiaNews) - Births are at an all-time low and the number of elderly people is booming. This is the picture drawn up today by the Chinese Bureau of Statistics which reports 10.62 million new births in 2021, compared to 12 million the year before: a drop of 11.5%. The birth rate fell for the 5th year in a row: in fact the failure of the one-child policy. Its relaxation in 2016, with the possibility of having two children per family, extended to three last year, has failed to change the situation.
The cost of living in the cities is the biggest obstacle to the expansion of families, as are changing social habits. Young Chinese people increasingly tend to put off marriage, a choice also dictated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In 2021, there were 7.52 births per 1,000 inhabitants in China, the lowest level since 1949, when records began. With these numbers, last year the population - excluding foreign migrants - grew by 0.034% on an annual basis: the lowest increase since 1960, at the time of the famine caused by the "Great Leap Forward", Mao Zedong's disastrous economic policy.
This could be the peak in growth. The number of births has exceeded the number of deaths by about 480,000; China's population is now 1.4126 billion. However, the government's figures are viewed with suspicion by many observers. It is well known that local governments often inflate population counts in order to obtain more resources from central authorities.
Analysts note that the negative trend is well known: what is striking is how quickly China's population is ageing. To reverse the trend, experts expect more government intervention to support families, such as cash outlays and career incentives for those with more children.
The shrinking population will have a strong economic and social impact on the Asian giant. An ageing population will require higher pension expenditure; economic growth will most likely be slowed by the loss of millions of people of working age.
Due to the health emergency, increased government restrictions on the hi-tech and real estate sectors, and the energy problems of recent months, national GDP grew by only 4% in the last quarter of 2021. For the whole year the figure is +8.1%, but this is based on the low 2020 levels. Unemployment remains at 5.1%, although this figure does not take into account the millions of migrant workers employed in urban areas but residing in rural areas. Youth unemployment remains high: at 14.3% for the 16-24 year old population group.