The latest population data released by China’s government on Tuesday shows that the world’s most populous nation declined for the first time in 60 years.
In the historic demographic shift, China saw its population drop to 850,000 fewer people at the end of 2022 than the previous year. The tally includes only the population of mainland China, excluding Hong Kong and Macao and foreign residents.
The population reduction occurred amid a slowing economy and widespread pandemic lockdowns under China’s draconian “zero Covid policy” which it lifted last month following nationwide protests.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported 9.56 million births in 2022, compared to 10.62 million in 2021. Deaths rose from 10.14 million to 10.41 million.
Meanwhile, the National Bureau of Statistics also reported that China’s economy fell to near-historic lows in 2022 as well.
The Bureau said Tuesday that China’s economy expanded 3% in 2022, a significant slowdown from the 8.1% pace recorded in 2021.
Aside from 2020, when China’s economy grew by only 2.2%, last year was the worst year for economic growth in China since 1976, the year Mao Zedong died.
Along with lower birth rates, it’s expected that labor shortages will accompany China’s rapidly aging population, which will also reduce tax revenue and contributions to a pension system that is already under enormous pressure.
Government handouts like cash for babies and tax cuts have failed to change an underlying reality—that many young Chinese people simply do not want children—and by 2035, it’s projected that some 400 million people in China will be over 60, or nearly one-third of its population.
The increasing challenge for the Chinese Communist Party, then, will be to provide widespread access to elder care, medical services and steady incomes to its aging citizenry.
“In the long run, we are going to see a China the world has never seen,” Wang Feng, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Irvine who specializes in China’s demographics, told The New York Times. “It will no longer be the young, vibrant, growing population. We will start to appreciate China, in terms of its population, as an old and shrinking population.”