The Big Shrink

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China’s population dropped in 2023 for the second year in a row, according to the country’s statistics agency, a decline that has raised demographic and economic worries in one of the world’s largest economies, NBC News reported.

On Wednesday, China’s National Statistics Bureau said the country’s total population was 1.409 billion at the end of last year, down more than two million from 2022. The number of births in 2023 was nine million – a birthrate of 6.39 per 1,000 – more than 500,000 fewer than in 2022.

Deaths amounted to at least 11 million, including nearly two million excess deaths early last year after the government lifted tough restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19.

Chinese analysts said the decline was “within expectations” given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, adding that a “rebound” in newborns is expected this year.

But the results underscore the demographic challenges China faces after it was overtaken by India as the world’s most populous country last year. Observers said it has also prompted questions about whether China can overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy.

The population decline has been attributed to an increasing aging population and declining birth rates.

In recent years, Chinese officials have taken a series of measures to increase births and encourage marriage, including dropping the country’s infamous one-child policy. Chinese couples can now have up to three children.

Other incentives include tax breaks, childcare subsidies, and making it easier for unmarried women to have children – long a cultural taboo. President Xi Jinping has also called for “a new culture of marriage and childbearing.”

However, many young people cite the stresses of life and economic concerns as the reasons for remaining single and childless.

Women, particularly, have also described the government’s efforts as attempts to revert them to traditional roles, citing a lack of consideration for gender equality in laws and societal norms, the New York Times added.

Meanwhile, the number of people above the age of 65 reached more than 15 percent of the population last year, meeting the United Nations’ definition of an “aged society.”

While the economy grew more than five percent in 2023, China’s economic growth remains below its rates prior to the pandemic. Kang Yi, the director of the National Bureau of Statistics, said that economic development will continue to face challenges amid the growing complexity and uncertainty of the global environment.

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