China's population decreased for the first time in six decades last year, a historic reversal that is believed to signal the start of a long trend of reduction in its citizen numbers with far-reaching ramifications for the country's economy and the rest of the world.
Domestic demographers are worried that China may become old before it becomes rich, stalling the economy as revenues fall and government debt rises due to rising health and welfare bills.
"China's demographic and economic outlook is much bleaker than expected. China will have to adjust its social, economic, defense, and foreign policies," demographer Yi Fuxian said.
The decline, which is the steepest since 1961, the final year of China's Great Famine, supports forecasts that India would surpass China as the world's most populated country this year.
By the end of 2022, China's population had decreased by almost 850,000, to 1.41175 billion, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
In the long run, according to United Nations analysts, China's population would fall by 109 million people by 2050, which is more than quadruple the decline they previously predicted for 2019.
The lowest birth rate ever recorded was 6.77 births per 1,000 people in China in 2017, down from 7.52 births per 1,000 people in 2021.
The number of Chinese women of childbearing age, defined by the government as 25 to 35, has decreased by roughly 4 million.
The death rate was 7.37 fatalities per 1,000 people, the highest since 1974 during the Cultural Revolution, compared to 7.18 deaths in 2021.
Much of the demographic collapse is the result of China's one-child policy, which was implemented between 1980 and 2015, as well as sky-high education expenditures, which have discouraged many Chinese from having more than one child, if any at all.
China's strict zero-COVID regulations, which have been in effect for three years, have also harmed the country's demographic outlook, according to population experts.
Since 2021, local governments have implemented policies to support increased births, such as tax breaks, extended maternity leaves, and housing subsidies. Additionally, President Xi Jinping stated in October that the government would implement additional supportive measures.
However, current measures haven't really done much to stop the long-term tendency.
Online searches for infant bottles have decreased by more than a third since 2018, while searches for strollers fell by 17% in 2022 on China's Baidu search engine. In contrast, last year saw an eightfold increase in searches for senior care facilities.