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China’s population shrinks despite two-child policy

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China ’ s population shrank last year for the first time in 70 years , experts said , warning of a “ demographic crisis ” that puts pressure on the country ’ s slowing economy .The world ’ s most populous nation of some 1 . 4 billion for decades limited most families to one child in an attempt to keep population growth sustainable .

But since 2016 it has allowed couples to have two children in response to concerns about an ageing society and shrinking workforce .

The number of live births nationwide in 2018 fell by 2 . 5 million year – on – year , contrary to a predicted increase of 790 , 000 births , according to analysis by US – based academic Yi Fuxian .
Yi, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin – Madison , is a long -term critic of the one – child policy and his work has previously gained traction among the country ’ s leadership.

Enforced through fines but notorious for cases of forced abortions and sterilisation , the one -child policy caused birth rates to plummet after it was introduced in 1979 .

However childbirths have not increased as much as forecast since the two -child policy came into force and there has been rising speculation the government will further ease restrictions .

Last year marked a “ historic turning point for the Chinese population ” , said Yi, who studied publicly available data on births in towns and villages across China .

This downward trend may be irreversible , he cautioned , due to factors such as a decrease in the number of women of childbearing age and the reluctance of couples to have children due to rising education , health and housing costs .

Yi’ s calculations show that the number of deaths in 2018 was about 11 . 58 million and the total population shrank by 1 . 27 million .

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“ The Chinese population has started to decrease for the first time since the founding of New China in 1949 , the ageing problem has accelerated , and economic vitality has weakened , ” he told AFP .

Yi’ s findings, due to appear in an upcoming research paper co – authored with Peking University economist Su Jian , were pieced together from National Health Commission figures .

The experts also used other official statistics including school enrolment figures , household registration data and government censuses to reach their conclusions .

China ’ s National Bureau of Statistics is expected to release official nationwide birth figures for 2018 later this month .

In the meantime , data released by some local authorities indicate a significant drop in births last year.

In Qingdao, a city in eastern Shandong province — one of China ’ s most populous regions — births between January and November decreased by 21 percent to just over 81 , 000 compared to the previous year .

Ren Zeping , chief economist at property developer Evergrande Group , wrote in a research note that China is walking into a “ demographic crisis ” as the easing of the one – child policy has failed to boost the country ’ s fertility rate .

– Ageing crisis –

Tracking China ’ s demographic changes is difficult as the figures published by the health commission and statistics bureau do not always match , said He Yafu , an independent demographer based in southern Guangdong province .

But he said Yi’ s estimate of the drop in children born in 2018 is likely to be correct .

The number of women of childbearing age is expected to fall by more than 39 percent over the next decade and China ’ s two – child policy isn’ t enough to shore up dwindling birth rates , He added .

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Yi said he was sceptical of the National Bureau of Statistics figures , accusing the organisation of “ inflating the number of births ” to account for families who may not have registered their second , third or fourth child .

Local authorities seeking more funds from the central government have also “ over -reported ” school enrolment figures and hospital live births , he said .

Yi added that the statistics bureau may have also under – reported the number of deaths .

In 2016 , Yi was invited to speak at the Boao Forum in southwest China , an annual gathering of influential figures including politicians and businesspeople — the same year Beijing announced an end to its one -child rule .

He is now urging the government to get out of people ’ s bedrooms by scrapping the two – child limit and offering more incentives including generous maternity leave and tax breaks for parents .

If the government doesn ’ t intervene now , “ China ’ s ageing crisis will be more severe than Japan , and the economic outlook will be bleaker than Japan ” , Yi said .

China ’ s labour force is becoming smaller as the population greys , putting intense strain on the country ’ s fragile pension and healthcare systems .

For each elderly citizen, there are seven people who are working and contributing to the social welfare system , Yi said — a figure set to shrink to just four by 2030 .

“ The US economy will not be overtaken by China , but by India , which has a younger population , ” he said .

“ China ’ s economic vitality will continue to decline , which will bring about a disastrous impact on the global economy . ”

( AFP )

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