China's birth rate falls to record low in 2021

Country's population may have reached its peak, experts say

A couple take pictures of a baby with cherry blossom in Beijing. The number of babies born in China continued to fall in 2021. AP

The number of babies born in China dropped to a record low in 2021.

Figures revealed on Monday confirmed the continuation of a downward trend that led China last year to begin allowing couples to have up to three children.

The country scrapped a one-child policy that had stood for decades in 2016, replacing it with a two-child limit to try to avoid the economic risks of an ageing population, but the high cost of urban living has deterred couples from having more children.

The 2021 rate of 7.52 births per 1,000 people was the lowest since 1949, when the National Statistics Bureau began collating the data, adding further pressure on officials to encourage more births.

The natural growth rate of China's population, which excludes migration, was only 0.034 per cent for 2021, the lowest since 1960, according to the data.

“The demographic challenge is well-known, but the speed of population ageing is clearly faster than expected,” Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset management, told Reuters.

China's population 'may have peaked'

“This suggests China's total population may have reached its peak in 2021. It also indicates China's potential growth is likely slowing faster than expected.”

In addition to allowing couples to have three children, China has been adopting policies aimed at reducing the financial burden of raising children, including banning for-profit after-school tuition last year.

China's working-age population is already declining, which will add pressure on the country's ability to pay and care for an increasingly elderly country.

There were 10.62 million births in 2021, compared with 12 million in 2020, a rate of 8.52 births per 1,000 people.

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A man lifts a child at a park in Beijing, China, on Thursday. AP

Huang Wenzheng, a demography expert with the Beijing-based Centre for China and Globalisation, said birth numbers were likely to fluctuate in the 10 million range before declining further in the absence of more policy changes.

“But policies will provide greater support for the birth rate in the longer run,” Mr Huang said.

“Career advancements could be tied to whether you have children or not.” he said there could be “economic incentives, or even direct cash payouts by society to meet the cost of raising a family".

In December, the Census Bureau said US population growth had dropped to its lowest rate in history, due in part to deaths from the virus and a drop in immigration.

Updated: January 17, 2022, 8:29 AM