Can Beijing reverse the trend?
China’s latest once-a-decade census statistics have refuted reports that its population has shrunk, but they raise questions about whether policymakers can defy the odds by reversing its declining birth rate.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday released its 2020 census figures, which showed the country’s population had grown from 1.40 billion in 2019 to 1.41 billion in 2020 and effectively dispelled forecasts that the number of people in the world’s second-largest economy were shrinking.
The number of newborns, however, has plummeted with just 12 million babies born in China last year, down from more than 14 million in 2019.
Can a society regain its birth rate if it had previously sought to lower it? To my knowledge, no company in history has ever managed to turn the switch back on once it has been turned off.
No one has ever managed to replenish the old birth rate. But China may offer an interesting test case, having implemented a strict one-child policy in 1979 and only relaxed that policy since 2016. As the Chinese population becomes more comfortable with the government regulations and increasingly enjoy a better life, how successful will this reversal be?
Don’t underestimate China. It practices social management to a greater extent than perhaps any other country, so its ability to provide incentives and promote birth rates will surpass that of most others as well.
Ning Jizhe, the bureau chief, admitted it would still be a challenge for China to raise the struggling fertility rate, even after now allowing its people to have more than one child.
âThe lifting of the restriction on the second child has paid offâ¦ The policy change has resulted in the creation of 10 million additional newborn second children. Low fertility rates have become a common challenge for many developed countries, it is also a challenge for China, âNing said at a press conference in Beijing.
On the other hand, the decrease is a phenomenon, but is it a problem? The Chinese economy is expected to continue to grow well over the next few decades, even as the population shrinks. It is not known to what extent the Chinese government views this as a special problem of China or as a symptom that many other countries are facing. If the Chinese population were to stabilize at a level 10% lower than today, I guess the Chinese leadership would see this as a satisfactory development, if not welcome.
But “stabilizing” is the trap. With a closed political system and state-owned media, China may fall behind in recognition more than other governments. It tends to evolve gradually in social management and a change in policy may take several years to assess.
To some extent, China could be a victim of its own success. More and more Chinese are living their lives on their own terms: free to travel, to enjoy life, to participate in modern consumer culture.
The bottom line: I believe China is in a prolonged period of partial stages with limited results, and then the need for additional stages. This cycle will last a few years and then repeat itself. It will only be a few decades if we can assess whether China has adopted the right mix of policies and incentives.