China birth rate lowest since 1949

Baby feet. File picture
Baby feet. File picture
Image: DispatchLIVE


China’s birth rate dropped last year to its lowest level since the Communist country was founded in 1949, adding to concerns that an ageing society and shrinking workforce would pile pressure on a slowing economy.

To avoid a demographic crisis, the government relaxed its one-child policy in 2016 to allow people to have two children, but the change has not resulted in an increase in pregnancies.

Last year, the birth rate stood at 10.48 per 1,000 people, down slightly from the year before, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics released yesterday.

The number of births has now fallen for three consecutive years — but still there were 14.65m babies born in 2019.

He Yafu, an independent demographer based in the southern Guangdong province, said the number of births was the lowest since 1961, the last year of a famine that left tens of millions dead and resulted in only 11.8m births.

US academic Yi Fuxian, senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said even though China had abolished its one-child policy, there had been a shift in the mindset of the population, with people now used to smaller families.

He said the higher cost of living was also a factor, with day care  expensive and inconvenient in China, posing another deterrent.

He believes that China’s population has been over-estimated and, according to his work, the real population “began to decline in 2018”.

According to official figures, China’s population stood at 1.4bn by the end of 2019, increasing by 4.67m from the year before.

While China’s limit on family sizes could be removed altogether eventually, the demographer said citizens were still being punished for having three children, even though some areas had reduced punitive measures. — AFP