China’s population likely shrank in 2022 for first time in decades, expert says

China’s population probably began to shrink for the first time in decades in 2022 and this could impact the country’s economy, said experts.

Official data, which will be released next week, could show the total number of births in 2022 at a record low of 10 million, according to independent demographer He Yafu.

This would be less than the 10.6 million babies born in 2021, reported Bloomberg, citing the demographer.

It was reported in July last year that China’s population slowed significantly and was expected to start to shrink ahead of 2025.

The state-owned Global Times had reported last year, citing a senior health official, that birth data released on 24 July 2022 showed the number of new births two years ago was the lowest in decades in several provinces.

The number of births in central Hunan province fell below 500,000 for the first time in nearly 60 years, the news outlet had reported, citing provincial data.

Only China’s southern Guangdong province has had more than a million new births, it said.

Mr He said China likely recorded more deaths in 2022 than the 10.1 million people who died in 2021, partly due to Covid.

Experts said the shrinking has come faster than earlier expected, something that this could mean serious repercussions for the economy as it could curb growth and reduce demand for housing coupled with an already shrinking labour force.

The government could also grapple with funding its national pension system, according to the Bloomberg report.

Christopher Beddor, deputy China research director at Gavekal Dragonomics, told the business portal that “the measures taken to boost birth rates have been far too little and too late, and were completely overwhelmed by the impact of Covid-Zero on birth rates”.

“The core issue is that there’s only so much policy can accomplish in this realm because declining birth rates are driven by deep structural factors,” Mr Beddor said, adding that economic challenges posed by China’s ageing and shrinking population have been discussed for years.

“The leadership seems to have belatedly realised that those issues are very real and arriving very quickly.”

Meanwhile, India is expected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country this year, according to a UN report released last year.

“This year’s (2022) World Population Day (11 July) falls during a milestone year when we anticipate the birth of the Earth’s eight billionth inhabitant,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres had said.