July 23rd, 2024

China’s population dropped for a second straight year as deaths jumped after COVID lockdowns ended

By The Associated Press on January 16, 2024.

A man carries a child at a shopping mall in Beijing, Dec. 30, 2023. China’s population dropped by 2 million people in 2023 in the second straight annual drop as births fell and deaths jumped. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

BEIJING (AP) – China’s population dropped by 2 million people in 2023 in the second straight annual drop as births fell and deaths jumped after the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, the government said Wednesday.

The number of deaths more than doubled to 690,000. Demographers were expecting a sharp rise in deaths because of COVID-19 outbreaks that started at the end of the previous year and continued through February of last year. The total population stood at 1.4 billion, the statistics bureau said. China, long the most populated country in the world, dropped into second place behind India in 2023, according to U.N. estimates.

The number of births fell for the seventh year, reflecting a fall in the birth rate that is a long-running economic and societal challenge for China. The population is aging steadily, which could slow economic growth over time and challenge the nation’s ability to provide for a larger elderly population with fewer workers.

The number of births fell by 540,000, which was less than in previous years. About 9 million babies were born in 2023, half of the total in 2016. All the figures are estimates based on surveys and do not include Hong Kong and Macao. China conducts a full census every 10 years.

China, which once sought to control population growth with its one-child policy, is now facing the opposite problem. The government has sought to encourage births since easing the policy over 2015 to 2016 to allow a second child and then a third child in 2021, but with little success.

People are marrying later and sometimes choosing not to have children. Even those that do often have only one child because of the high cost of educating children in cities in a highly competitive academic environment. The population of women of child-bearing age has also fallen.

The working-age population, defined as those between 16 and 59 years old, fell to 61% of the total population, continuing a gradual decline. The proportion of those aged 60 and older ticked up to 21%. The official retirement age in China is 60 years old for men and 50 or 55 for women.

It is not clear how many people died from COVID-19 because of the sudden end to China’s “zero-COVID” restrictions in December 2022. The government has reported about 80,000 COVID-related deaths from December to February but experts believe it is much higher. Studies have estimated it could have reached 1.4 million or 1.9 million deaths.

The drop in population is expected to be less this year, because of the waning effects of the pandemic and the fact that it is the year of the dragon, considered an auspicious year to have children, an expert said at a forum earlier this week, according to the China Daily, an English-language state-owned newspaper.

But Yuan Xin, a professor at Nankai University and vice-president of the China Population Association, added that “the downward trend in China’s total population is bound to be long-term and become an inherent characteristic.”

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