China’s population plummeted by 850,000 people to 1.4118 billion in 2022, down from 1.4126 billion a year earlier, the first decline since 1961. Foreigners, and the populations of Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, are not included in the figures. In 2022, the national population growth rate was minus 0.6 per thousand. Mothers in China had 9.56 million babies last year, representing a 9.98% drop from the 10.62 million in 2021. China’s national birth rate fell to a record low of 6.77 births for every 1,000 people in 2022, down from 7.52 in 2021, the lowest rate since records began in 1949.
A total of 10.41 million people died in China in 2022. The national mortality rate was 7.37 per thousand last year, putting the national growth rate at a negative 0.6 per thousand people. China’s male population in 2022 stood at 722.06 million, while the female population was 689.69 million. China’s working-age population – those between 16 and 59 years old – stood at 875.56 million at the end of 2022, representing 62% of the total population, down from 62.5% a year earlier. Last year, 280.04 million people were aged 60 years old or older, accounting for 19.8% of the population. In 2022, 209.78 million people were aged 65 or older, up from 200 million in 2021. The 2022 total accounted for 14.85% of the population, up from 14.16% in 2021.
The number of permanent residents in urban areas was 920.71 million, an increase of 6.46 million from a year earlier. There were 491.04 million permanent residents in rural areas, a decrease of 7.31 million from a year earlier. The share of the urban population in the total population was 65.22%, 0.5 percentage points higher than a year earlier.
“The contraction of the total population reflects the impact of the pandemic and the associated economic downturn on fertility demand. We continue to expect population contraction in 2023; infections and the long-term effects of Covid-19 could postpone household birth plans. Lockdowns in 2022 will also have a lagging impact on birth in 2023. At the same time, the death rate will stay above the pre-pandemic level tied to Covid-19 infections across the country.” said Yue Su, Principal Economist at The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Zhang Zhiwei, President and Chief Economist of Pinpoint Asset Management added that “China’s population declined for the first time since 1961. The population will likely trend down from here in the coming years. This is very important, with implications for potential growth and domestic demand. China cannot rely on the demographic dividend as a structural driver for economic growth. Going forward, demographics will be a headwind. Economic growth will have to depend more on productivity growth, which is driven by government policies.”
China’s population decline is irreversible, and believing otherwise is futile, demographers warned, but more must be done to stem the tide, including ramped-up efforts to boost the birth rate. “It’s unquestionable that China will not see population growth from now on, as an endless period of population decline began in 2022,” independent demographer He Yafu said. “There’s no hope that the decline can be reversed.” China allowed couples to have three children in 2021 after dropping the one-child policy that was in place from the 1980s until 2016, when the two-child policy followed. Having additional children is also no longer punishable by law, but they would not qualify for any legally mandated childcare and benefits. One of the most urgent moves needed to encourage births, according to He, would be to completely scrap the family-planning policy and drop all number restrictions. “Despite the limited actual effect – as only a small number of couples would want to have more than three children – replacing the three-child policy by encouraging unlimited births would have a tone-setting significance, indicating a complete shift in birth policy,” the demographer said.
Additionally, China should give larger cash handouts to new parents while offering greater and more affordable day-care services for children under the age of three. Some provincial and municipal authorities have started offering financial incentives to couples to have kids. However, critics say that, compared with the actual cost of raising a child, the subsidies are far from sufficient. Births will remain low as the number of women of childbearing age will continue to drop, while their reluctance to have more babies will remain. Kang Yi, Director of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), confirmed that the number of women aged 15 to 49 – which the World Health Organization (WHO) considers to be the reproductive age – plunged by nearly 4 million last year, the South China Morning Post reports.