China’s Population Decreases for the First Time in Over 60 Years

Despite the reversal of the one-child policy in 2015, China’s population growth continues to slow and finally reached negative growth in 2022

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Hayley Zhao
1:03 PM HKT, Fri January 20, 2023 1 mins read

For the first time in more than six decades, the population of China has declined.

China is well known for being the most populous country on Earth, with 1.4 billion people living on the Chinese mainland. In the 1970s, the Chinese government started to encourage its citizens to have fewer children in an attempt to rein in the nation’s soaring birth rate, launching the one-child policy in the ’80s to control population growth.

The policy worked, but maybe a bit too well. China is now home to one of the fastest-aging populations in the world.

Despite reversing the policy in recent years and launching other regulations, such as the 30-day cooling-off period to salvage marriages, the birth rate in China continues to plummet.

According to government data released on January 17, the Chinese mainland’s population decreased for the first time in 61 years in 2022, dropping by 850,000 people. What’s more, the birth rate last year was actually lower than the mortality rate.

China birth rate, China population, China's population

Data from the China National Bureau of Statistics. Graphic via the author

China’s last significant population decline occurred in the late ’50s and early ’60s when millions died in the Great Chinese Famine, contributing to a population decrease of 10 million in 1960. In 2022, though, the reason for the population decrease was something entirely different.

It’s common knowledge that more developed areas tend to have a lower fertility rate. And while China has lifted millions of people out of poverty and economic hardship in the past 40 years, the rising cost of living and childcare has made many young people less willing to have children, especially in big cities.

“The high price of housing, education, and medical resources. These are all the issues young people need to consider before having children. If we don’t solve these root problems, I don’t see why people would choose to have more children,” wrote one user on Weibo, China’s top microblogging platform.

According to data from the World Bank, China’s fertility rate was even lower than in some developed countries such as the U.S. and Japan in 2020.

Compounding the issue is the fact that many young Chinese women are reluctant to have kids for fear of workplace discrimination.

Just this week, the story of a woman who got fired on her first day on the job for being a childless married woman started trending online and stirred up fiery discussion about women’s hardships in the workforce.

Even though this behavior is technically against the law, it hasn’t stopped many companies from firing pregnant employees over minor issues or selecting male candidates when filling positions because they don’t want to carry the cost of paid maternity leave.

“Give the same amount of paid leave time to both male and female employees so we can avoid this one-sided discrimination. This way, both parents can care for the baby together too,” wrote one Weibo user.

Cover image via VCG

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