BEIJING • A top Chinese research institution projected that China's population could start shrinking as soon as 2027 - three years earlier than expected - underscoring growth concerns in the world's second-largest economy.
A report released on Thursday by the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Cass) said the country's population would start declining within eight years if the birth rate held steady at 1.6 children per woman. The population - at 1.39 billion in 2017, and the world's largest - could fall to 1.172 billion by 2065, the report said.
The estimate was one of a flurry of alarming demographic projections spurring debate about the impact of China's restrictive birth limits on the country's long-term growth prospects.
The China Times newspaper cited two demographers last week saying that the country's total number of births probably fell below 15 million last year - a figure that would speed the population drop beyond even the updated Cass projections.
The forecasts were circulated on social media platforms, including Weibo, leading users to question if policymakers had been too optimistic in assuming a baby boom would follow China's 2016 policy change allowing parents to have up to two children, instead of one.
China is slated to release official birth estimates for last year on Jan 21.
In August, China's Parliament removed "family planning" policies from the latest draft of a revised civil code slated for adoption in 2020, a signal that population control measures would eventually be eliminated.
The State Council, China's Cabinet, has commissioned research on the repercussions of ending the roughly four-decade-old policy and intends to enact the change nationwide, Bloomberg reported in May, citing people familiar with the matter.
Demographic trends are weighing on President Xi Jinping's efforts to develop China's economy, driving up pension and healthcare costs and sending foreign companies looking elsewhere for labour.
China's State Council projected in 2017 that about one-quarter of its population would be aged 60 or older by 2030 - compared with 13 per cent in 2010.