Monday, February 27th, 2023

China’s population decline

Graphic of an elderly Asian man holding a baby. The caption reads

China’s population has been heading towards decline for years. The fertility rate (number of children per female) has been below the replacement level for decades. As the population ages, there aren’t enough young people to replace them as they retire. Eventually the number of elderly people dying outpaces people born to replace them and the population declines.

The decline might have started earlier than expected thanks to COVID, but it was going to happen.

Some thoughts:

  • The “One Child” policy seems to have created a cultural norm of having one child, and incentives don’t appear to be reversing it
  • China can’t rely on immigration to lessen the impact of decline. More people leave than enter, and it’s not high on the list of “attractive places to move”
  • “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” hasn’t shielded people from socio-economic issues around rising cost of living and wages falling in real-terms
  • Environmentally it might be a “good thing” as fewer people need less resources, which might lessen the strain from polluting activities
  • Financially it’s going to be a massive burden on the state to pay out pensions and healthcare costs to more people, while bringing in tax to pay for it from fewer.

China is far from alone. I suspect greater attention will turn to this issue and how to manage a decline. Hoping foreigners will turn up to solve the problem seems a little short-sighted and unsustainable.

Further reading:

What China’s Falling Population Means for the Country’s Future [Washington Post]

Key facts about China’s declining population [Pew Research Center]

Countries with Declining Population [World Population Review]

“It’s Like Trying to Stop a Moving Train”: Unpacking China’s Population Shift With Demographer Kristin Bietsch [Population Reference Bureau]

Cover design by me, Ross Hori, with photo from Dragon Pan on Unsplash

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My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction. Find out more.