Why is China’s population decreasing? Will India become the most populous country in the world now?
The new year has come with drastic news for China. Recently, on 17th January 2023, China’s National Bureau of Statistics declared that China’s population has shrunk by 8,50,000 in 2022. This has been the very first decline in the population since the year 2016. In 1916, the reason for the shrinkage in the population was that China was in the middle of a famine that lasted for four years. The famine was following the “Great Leap Forward” campaign.
With the trend of the shrinkage in population, demographers state that India may now become the most populous country in the world.
What is the reason for the shrinking population of the most populous country?
Since the decade of 1980s, the birth rates in China have declined drastically. This has been found in the wake of the “one-child policy” in China. The “one-child policy” was harsh, as it included measures like substantial financial penalties and forced abortions.
The Chinese government, however, did not find anything wrong or unethical in the policy. In an attempt to defend the policy from harsh criticism, it has always been stated that the policy has contributed to the betterment of the country, as it prevented an extra 400 million births in the country. Sure, the number is quite significant, but critics raise a brow at the policy saying that the number may be nothing but an exaggerated estimation.
The first reason behind the shrinkage in the population is definitely the “one-child policy.” The second reason lies in the preference for fewer children or not having children at all in today’s generation. As stated by Barcley Bram of the Asia Society Policy Institute, “young Chinese are marrying later, having fewer children, or forgoing having children altogether”. The number of married couples in the nation has also seen a decline from 13.46 million to 8.14 million from 2013 to 2020.
If we look at the statistics on the age of parents in recent decades, then, in the past three decades from 1990-2020, the average age of first-time parents has risen from 24.1 to 27.5.
The increasing preference for choosing marriage and parenting at later stages of life is leading married couples to opt for fewer babies.
Last year in 2022, the number of deaths was more than the number of births in China. This has happened for the very first time in the nation. In 2022, the births were 9.56 million. The number is actually a significant drop from that of the year 2021.
What does the Chinese government have to say about the population crisis in China?
In the year 2016, Beijing let go of the one-child policy. By the year 2016, the one-child policy was not as strict as it was at its inception. As the policy evolved through the wave of intense criticism, it incorporated many exceptions.
In 2016, the “two-child policy” was also introduced. However, it failed to create the desired impact.
After the introduction of the present five-year plan (2021-25), the Politburo had been concerned regarding the “major policy measures to actively address the aging of the population.”. In the wake of this discussion, the “three-child policy” was introduced in the year 2021. This included financial inducements for couples having three children.
Economic factors like education costs, and healthcare expenses had also been addressed.
While the government is doing every possible effort to combat the issue of aging of the population, the increasing personal preferences for opting for small families as against bigger ones is something that the government still finds difficult to mold. Not just in China, but the policies rolled out by the Japanese government have also seen a cold response from its people due to the global trend of having small, happy, peaceful families instead of huge, fussy ones.
Some scholars suggest that while it is hard to change the personal preferences of youngsters these days, some policies can still be introduced to increase the retirement age of the population from the current 55 for women and 60 for men. Such a policy though, if rolled out, too will face mixed reactions.
The impact of the Chinese economy in a nutshell!
First things first, the 16-59 working age of the Chinese population continues to shrink. By the end of the year 2022, this working population was 875 million. This is actually 62% of the total population. However, in the year 2010, the working population of China was 75 million more than the number in 2022.
Now, if we talk about the population of people above the age of 60, then the number by the end of the year 2022 was 280 million, which actually is 20% of the total population. Since 2010, the number of 60-above population has increased by approximately 30 million.
As per the Chinese estimates, by the year 2050, the above-60 population would be around 35% of the total population. This, however, sounds like an alarming estimate for the Chinese economy.
As per China’s National Working Commission on Ageing, the spending on healthcare in this group was 7% in the year 2015, but according to estimates, it will increase to 26% of the GDP by the year 2050.
The shrinking workforce of the Chinese population does not offer a lucrative impact on the economy of the country!
In the year 2011, the labor force of China was 925 million, however, it is expected to drastically decline to 700 million by the year 2050.
Earlier, the country enjoyed a glut of labor from the rural regions of the country for its factories. However, the labor from the rural heartland is declining, leading to major concerns for the industries and factories. The expected labor crunch is compelling these industries to take steps that do not sound very good for the economy of the country.
For instance, wages are rising dramatically due to the labor crunch, and many factories are thus choosing to shift to Bangladesh and Southeast Asia for the glut of labor they earlier used to enjoy in China.
Additionally, companies like JD are investing significantly in automation to handle the expected lack of labor.
The Chinese media has been lately focusing on horrific concerns about factories leaving the mainland and moving to countries like India. This year, India will become the most populous country in the world! The labor force and demographic dividend of India would appear to be identical to that of China back in the year 1980.
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