China’s Population Shrinks for First Time Since 1960s in Seismic Shift

China’s population started shrinking in 2022 for the first time in six decades, the latest milestone in a worsening demographic crisis for the world’s second-largest economy.

The country had 1.41 billion people at the end of last year, 850,000 fewer than the end of 2021, according to data released by the National Statistics Bureau on Tuesday. That marks the first drop since 1961, the final year of the Great Famine under former leader Mao Zedong, and coincided with figures showing China’s economy expanded last year at the second-slowest pace since the 1970s.

Some 9.56 million babies were born in 2022, down from 10.62 million a year earlier, the lowest level since at least 1950, despite efforts by the government to encourage families to have more children.

The decline in newborns was the main cause of the population contraction, according to Kang Yi, head of the National Statistics Bureau.

“That’s mainly a result of drop in people’s willingness to have babies, the delay in marriage and pregnancy, as well as a fall in number of women of child-bearing age,” Kang told reporters after a press briefing Tuesday.

Kang said the drop — while the beginning of a new trend — was “not something to be over-concerned about.” The supply of the country’s labor force is still greater than the demand, he added.

“The population will likely trend down from here in coming years,” said Zhang Zhiwei, president and chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management Ltd. “This is very important, with implications for potential growth and domestic demand.”

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