China’s birth rate fell again last year, according to official data released on Monday, adding to the pressure on the country’s ruling Communist Party’s ambitions to boost China’s wealth and global influence in the face of reduced strength. labor.
Last year about 10.6 million children were born, down 12% from the 12 million previously reported for 2020.
The total population stood at 1.413 million at the end of 2021, an increase of 480 thousand people from the previous year, according to data from the National Statistical Office.
The decline in birth rates could undermine the ruling party’s plans to develop technology and self-sustaining economic growth based on consumer spending, instead of exports and investment.
The figures have prompted warnings in China, where economic output per person, lower than the global average, it could face a “population bomb” and find itself with insufficient workers to support a growing number of elderly.
Authorities have imposed birth limits since 1980 to curb population growth and conserve resources.
But leaders became concerned when the working-age population peaked at 925 million in 2011 and began shrinking faster than expected.
The authorities relaxed restrictions on births starting in 2015. But couples are put off by the high cost of child-rearing, cramped housing and employment discrimination against mothers.
The percentage of people among 16 and 59 years old, the official criterion of working age population, fell to 882.2 million, or 62.5% of the total, from the 63.3% reported in the 2020 census.
A decade ago it was 70.1%. Demographers point out that the percentage of the working-age population could drop by half by 2050.
Last year there were 267 million people aged 60 or more, 18.9% of the total, up from 264 million, or 18.7% from 2020.
The threat of labor shortages looms as the government of the president, Xi Jinping, increases military spending and its efforts to create global competitors in electric cars and other technologies.
Japan, Germany and other rich countries face the same challenge to maintain aging populations with fewer workers.
But they can resort to investments in foreign factories, technologies and assets.
However, China depends on agriculture, livestock and manufacturing, two sectors with high demand for labor.
The report took its most important step in this regard in 2015, when the rules that limited many couples to a single child were relaxed to allow two.
The birth rate in China was already falling before the one-child norm, a trend also seen in South Korea, Thailand and other Asian economies.
The average number of children per woman fell from more than six in the 1960s to less than three by 1980, according to the World Bank.
Demographers noted that the official one-child policy masked a further decline in the number of children per family.
The limit of one child, under threat of fines or loss of employment, caused abuses such as abortions forced.
A Preference for sons caused some parents to kill girls, prompting warnings that millions of men might find themselves unable to find wives and fueling social tension.