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China’s Population Declines by 2 Million in 2023, Second Annual Drop Amid COVID-19 Impact

China’s population experienced a second consecutive annual drop, decreasing by 2 million people in 2023, as births declined and deaths surged following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, announced the government on Wednesday.

The statistics bureau reported a notable increase in deaths, more than doubling to 690,000, largely attributed to COVID-19 outbreaks that began in the previous year and continued through February of the current year. The total population now stands at 1.4 billion, with China slipping to the second most populated country globally, trailing behind India in 2023 according to U.N. estimates.

The birth rate fell for the seventh consecutive year, indicating a persistent economic and societal challenge for China. The aging population poses potential challenges to economic growth and the nation’s ability to support a larger elderly population with a dwindling workforce.

Births decreased by 540,000, although this decline was less pronounced compared to previous years. Approximately 9 million babies were born in 2023, half of the total in 2016. These figures are estimates based on surveys and do not include Hong Kong and Macao. China conducts a full census every 10 years.

China, once enforcing the one-child policy to control population growth, is now grappling with a declining birth rate. Despite easing the policy to allow a second child in 2015-2016 and a third child in 2021, the government’s efforts to encourage births have seen limited success.

Factors such as delayed marriages, individuals opting not to have children, and the high cost of education in cities contribute to the challenges. The population of women of child-bearing age has also decreased.

The working-age population, defined as those between 16 and 59 years old, declined to 61% of the total population, maintaining a gradual downward trend. The proportion of those aged 60 and older increased to 21%. The official retirement age in China is 60 for men and 50 or 55 for women.

The exact number of COVID-19-related deaths remains uncertain due to the sudden end of China’s “zero-COVID” restrictions in December 2022. While the government reported approximately 80,000 COVID-related deaths from December to February, experts estimate the actual figure to be much higher, ranging from 1.4 million to 1.9 million deaths.

Experts suggest that the population decline may be less pronounced this year due to the waning effects of the pandemic and the auspicious nature of the year of the dragon, traditionally considered a favorable time to have children. However, Professor Yuan Xin, a representative of the China Population Association, emphasized that the downward trend in China’s total population is likely to be a long-term and inherent characteristic.

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