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China Is Dying Out

Chinese policymakers must somehow implement policies to reduce the cost of raising children without crashing the economy. But even if they manage to increase the number of births, they will almost certainly be unable to reverse demographic trends.

MADISON, WISCONSIN – China’s population decline, which the Chinese government officially confirmed in January, has led many observers to wonder if the country’s current demographic trends threaten its stability.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, China’s population shrank last year for the first time in 60 years, nine years earlier than government projections had anticipated. The fertility rate (births per woman) fell to 1.0-1.1, well below the official forecast of 1.8. Most notably, the number of births dropped sharply to 9.56 million, the fewest since 1790, despite China’s shift to a two-child policy in 2016.

But this sharp drop in the number of births is an illusion caused by a gross exaggeration of pre-2020 numbers. For example, a sample survey from 2016 showed a fertility rate of 1.25 and only 13 million births, which was later inflated to 18.83 million. Similarly, the United Nations’ World Population Prospects report, typically regarded as a reliable source for estimates and projections of Chinese demographic trends, is wrong every time, without exception. The 2022 WPP suggests that China’s population began to decline last year (ten years earlier than its 2019 projection), whereas I estimate that the decline began in 2018. The latest WPP also predicted that China’s population would fall to 767 million in 2100, far below its earlier forecast of 1.065 billion.