Why China's falling birth rate is worrisome

January 30, 2020 12:15
China's birth rate in 2019 dropped to its lowest level since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. Photo: Xinhua

According to figures recently released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), China's population exceeded 1.4 billion in 2019.

However, the number of newborns recorded last year only stood at 14.65 million, the third straight year of decline.

What's even more worrying is that the national birth rate in 2019 dropped to its lowest level since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, with an average only 10.48 babies born per 1,000 people. This was far lower than the replacement level of fertility necessary to sustain the natural population growth in China.

In other words, China is now facing both a rapidly aging population and a continuously shrinking birth rate.

Despite the country's economic miracle and rapid growth over the past four decades, its current GDP per capita is only one-third that of South Korea, and only a fourth of Japan's.

So while China still has a long way to go before it can truly become a developed country, its birth rate is actually dropping faster than that of the developed world.

This means a shrinking labor force, skyrocketing healthcare and social welfare expenditures, and economic slowdown in the long run.

The Chinese are “getting old before becoming rich”. This social phenomenon may turn out to be Beijing’s greatest challenge in the coming days.

Experts have warned that from now until 2030, China's shrinking population is likely to cost the country half a percentage point in annual GDP growth year by year.

And if this scenario takes place, based on its 6.1 percent in GDP growth last year, China will follow the footsteps of the “Old World” and become a “low-growing” country in 10 years’ time.

In order to achieve the “China Dream”, perhaps what our state leaders badly need to do right now is to jump-start the country’s birth rate and secure a growing labor force.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 23

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal