Births in China hit lowest level since 1961

BEIJING • Births in China dropped to its lowest level in almost 60 years last year, a signal that the country's looser two-child policy has done little to reverse its slowing birth rate.

This also means the outlook for growth has worsened in the world's second-largest economy.

The number of babies born last year fell by some two million from 2017 to 15.23 million, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed yesterday.

Demographer He Yafu said it was the least since 1961 and the third-lowest since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

The demographics stand to fuel concerns about China's economy, which is on a long-term slowing trajectory, even as signs of stabilisation suggest efforts to cushion its deceleration are taking hold.

Signs of a steep drop in birth numbers had already emerged, as China's major cities disclosed their birth figures for 2018.

Wenzhou, a manufacturing hub in eastern Zhejiang province, saw its birth numbers drop to its lowest level in 10 years. Neighbouring city Ningbo estimated births declined by about 17 per cent.

  • 2m

  • The drop in the number of babies born last year from 2017, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

A top Chinese research institution projected that the population could start shrinking as soon as 2027 - three years earlier than expected - if the birth rate holds 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, it said.

Yesterday's figures are the lowest since the turmoil of Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward, during which China's aggressive push to develop industrial power resulted in widespread famine. The total population fell by 10 million in 1960, with a large number believed to have starved to death.

In 2016, China eased its family planning policies to allow parents to have two children, instead of one.

The nation's Parliament struck "family planning" policies from the latest draft of a sweeping civil code slated for adoption in 2020, the clearest signal yet that the leadership is moving to end limits on the number of children families can have.

The country's "one-child" policy left China with a worker shortage and an ageing population comprising some 30 million fewer women than men.

Last year, China's State Council projected that about a quarter of its population will be 60 or older by 2030 - up from 13 per cent in 2010. China's labour force fell by 4.7 million in 2018 - the seventh consecutive year of decline.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2019, with the headline 'Births in China hit lowest level since 1961'. Print Edition | Subscribe