China: Nation’s birth rate sinks to lowest level since 1978

Demographers have called for more efficient implementation of supportive measures to encourage births to address the country’s dwindling population growth, as indicated in the recently released China Statistical Yearbook 2021.

The birthrate last year was 8.52 births per thousand people, the lowest level since 1978, according to the yearbook, which was compiled by the National Bureau of Statistics and published over the weekend.

The rate of natural increase — the difference between the birthrate and the death rate — dropped to 1.45 per thousand, also the lowest rate in 43 years, the yearbook said.

According to an article published in May in the journal Population Research, which is affiliated with the China Population and Development Research Center, the birthrate from January to September last year declined by 20 to 30% from the same period in 2015. However, the birthrate in November and December last year dropped by 45% compared with the same period in 2015, mainly due to the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Zhai Zhenwu, director of the Population Development Studies Center at Renmin University of China, said the decline in China’s birthrate is mainly due to the sharp decrease in the number of women of childbearing age and people’s unwillingness to have more children.

The COVID-19 epidemic is expected to have a delayed and bigger impact on the country’s birthrate this year, which is expected to drop further, he said.

Dong Yuzheng, director of the Guangdong Academy of Population Development, said the combination of economic pressures and the impact of the pandemic have discouraged people from wanting to have children.

The yearbook also said there were 8.14 million registered marriages last year, down by 1.13 million from 2019. The number has declined for seven consecutive years.

There were 5.88 million registered marriages during the first three quarters this year, a fall of 17.5% compared with the same period last year, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said.

According to a survey of 2,900 single people between the ages of 18 and 26 conducted by a research center at the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League of China, 25% of respondents said they were uncertain whether they would get married, and 8.9% said they would not get married.

Forty-four percent of female respondents said they would not get married or had not made a decision about it. However, only 24% of male respondents gave the same response. Researchers put the large disparity down to the negative impact raising a child has on women’s career opportunities and development.