The decline in China’s population

  • 21st January, 2023

(MainsGS1 & 2 : Population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues & Government policies and interventions aimed at development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.)


  • The latest decline in population of the world’s most populous country by as much as 8,50,000 in 2022 marks a watershed moment with lasting consequences for China and the world. 
  • Beijing announced on January 17 that births in China last year dropped by more than 10% to 9.56 million, with 10.41 million deaths.

Tried and failed:

  • The last time China’s population saw a decline was in 1961, in the midst of a devastating four-year famine following Mao’s failed “Great Leap Forward” campaign. 
  • China’s population story holds lessons for countries that have tried robust interventions in social engineering. 
  • China has spent the greater part of two decades trying  and failing  to get families to boost birth rates that have been declining since the government introduced a harsh “one-child policy” in 1980. 
  • The belated introduction in 2016 of a “two-child policy” to course correct was not met with the enthusiasm that planners had expected for a relaxation announced with fanfare. A government survey found that 70% would not have more children citing financial reasons.

Below replacement rate:

  • The UN projects the world’s population to hit a peak of 10.4 billion in the 2080s and afterwards the negative effect of falling fertility rates on population growth is projected to kick in.
  • Global fertility rates have declined since the 1950s, from around 4.5 births per woman to below 2.4 births per woman in 2020, and it is expected to drop below the replacement fertility rate soon.
  • The replacement fertility rate, which is 2.1 births per woman, is the minimum required to simply maintain the human population but two-thirds of the world population lives in countries where fertility rates are below replacement rate.

Economic impact:

  • China’s economy is already feeling the impact of demographic change as the 16-59 working age population (2022), was 875 million, a decline of around 75 million since 2010. 
  • Wages are rising, and labour-intensive jobs are moving out, predominantly to Southeast Asia.
  • The above-60 population, meanwhile, has increased by 30 million to 280 million and the number of elderly will peak at 487 million by 2050 (35% of the population). 
  • China’s National Working Commission on Ageing estimates spending on health care for the elderly will take up 26% of the GDP by 2050.


  • A paper from Japan’s Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry pointed out that India’s proportion of child and elderly population in 2020 was similar to China’s in 1980, just when its economic boom took off. 
  • That was made possible only by making the most of its demographic dividend by investing heavily in health care and education to fashion a workforce capable of powering what would become the world’s factory.

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