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China population shrinks for first time in over six decades, economy slows

China’s population has declined last year for the first time in more than six decades, official data showed, as the world’s most populous nation faces a looming demographic crisis.

“By the end of 2022, the national population was 1,411.75 million,” Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics said on Tuesday, adding it was a “decrease of 0.85 million over that at the end of 2021.”

The country of 1.4 billion has seen birth rates plunge to record lows as its workforce ages, a rapid decline that analysts warn could stymie economic growth and pile pressure on strained public coffers.

The last time China’s population declined was in 1960, as the country battled the worst famine in its modern history, caused by Mao Zedong’s disastrous agricultural policy known as the Great Leap Forward.

China ended its strict “one-child policy” – imposed in the 1980s due to fears of overpopulation – in 2016, and in 2021 began allowing couples to have three children.

But that has failed to reverse the demographic decline.

China frets over falling birth rate and the prospect of an ageing society

READ MORE: New model predicts over 1M Covid deaths in China in 2023

Economy grows at the lowest rate in 40 years

China’s economy grew 3.0 percent in 2022, official data released Tuesday showed, one of the weakest rates in 40 years owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and a real estate crisis.

Beijing had set itself a target of 5.5 percent, a rate already much lower than the performance of 2021, when the country’s GDP increased more than eight percent.

In the fourth quarter, China’s economy grew 2.9 percent year-on-year, compared with 3.9 percent in the third quarter, the National Bureau of Statistics said.

The world’s second-largest economy faced historic headwinds as 2022 drew to a cl ose, with exports plunging last month due to a drop in global demand and rigid health restrictions that hammered economic activity.

Tuesday’s figures represent China’s worst growth figures since a 1.6 contraction in 1976 – the year Mao Zedong died – and excluding 2020, after the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan in late 2019.

China’s economic woes last year sent reverberations across a global supply chain already struggling with waning demand.

Strict lockdowns, quarantines and compulsory mass testing prompted the abrupt closures of manufacturing facilities and businesses in major hubs – like Zhengzhou, home of the world’s biggest iPhone factory.

Beijing abruptly loosened pandemic restrictions in early December in the wake of nationwide protests.

The World Bank has forecast China’s GDP will rebound to 4.3 percent for 2023 – still below expectations.

READ MORE: 8 billion humans by year-end: Demography as destiny in a divided world

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