China’s fertility rate may become ‘world’s lowest’ without strong intervention policy, India may overtake China by 2023: demographers
Published: May 11, 2021 04:39 PM
File Photo:Xinhua

File Photo:Xinhua

China recorded 12 million births in 2020, marking a drop for the fourth consecutive year, while some Chinese demographers warned that China’s number of newborns is likely to drop to below 10 million in a few years, and if no forceful intervention policy is introduced, China’s fertility rate may become the lowest in the world. 

The number of newborns in China in 2020 was down from 14.65 million in 2019, and China’s total fertility rate of women of childbearing age was 1.3, a relatively low level, according to the results of the seventh national population census released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday. 

The continued low birth level would allow India to soon replace China as the world's most populous country in 2023 or 2024, Chinese demographers said. 

Liang Jianzhang, an economics professor at Peking University, told the Global Times that China’s fertility rate will continue to drop in the coming years, and may become the world’s lowest. 

“According to the existing data, in the next 10 years, the number of women aged 22 to 35, which is the childbearing period, will drop by more than 30 percent compared with the present data. Without strong policy intervention, China’s new-born population is likely to fall below 10 million in the next few years, and its fertility rate will be lower than Japan’s, perhaps the lowest in the world,” Liang predicted.

According to the World Bank, the birth rate of South Korea, Japan, US, and EU in 2018 was 0.98, 1.42, 1.73, and 1.6 respectively.

He Yafu, an independent demographer, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the total fertility rate of 1.3 contains the disappearing effect of the second-child policy China introduced in 2016, and leaving out the effect, the total fertility rate could only stand at around 1.1. 

India maintained a fertility rate of around 2.3, which indicated that its population may surpass China’s by 2023 or 2024, He said, earlier than the latest UN prediction in 2019 that this would happen by 2027. Some Chinese demographers also predicted that India may overtake China in population as early as 2022. 

Song Jian, a demographer from the Center for Population and Development Studies of Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the number of newborns and total fertility rate are two important criteria for evaluating a country’s fertility level, both of which have seen drops for several consecutive years in China. 

Normally, once the total fertility rate slips below 1.5, a country falls into the low fertility trap and is unlikely to recover, which means that the total population will soon start to decline, according to demographers. 

However, Song said that the total fertility rate of 1.3 reflected the fertility rate of a specific period in China, which may be affected by several factors, including the impact of COVID-19 in 2020. 

What is needed to assess whether a country has fallen into the trap of low fertility was replacement level fertility, which refers to the average number of children born per woman in her lifetime. That figure needs a long time to track and calculate, Song said. 

However, the 2020 fertility rate was still looking grim, Song said, noting that China needs to figure out ways to encourage couples to have more children. 

According to a survey recently completed by Song and her team, most Chinese couples surveyed have a higher willingness to have a second child, but in fact fewer of them actually put this willingness into action. 

It meant that many couples wanted to have second children, but due to various reasons such as the high cost of raising children, they eventually abandoned the idea. Song said that we have to figure out what has prevented those couples from having a second child. 

Policies such as lowering education costs and adjusting educational concepts are needed, Song said.