Permanent populations of 10 provincial-level regions in China fall in 2021: data
Published: May 08, 2022 07:11 PM
A couple poses for a photo at a marriage registry of Daoli District in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, Feb. 22, 2022.(Photo: Xinhua)

A couple poses for a photo at a marriage registry of Daoli District in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, Feb. 22, 2022.(Photo: Xinhua)

The permanent populations of at least 10 provincial-level regions on the Chinese mainland fell in 2021, according to data released by statistic authorities from the country's 30 provinces and regions, which experts said was an expected crisis that needs to be fixed urgently.  

Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province lost 460,000 permanent residents compared with the previous year, the most significant decline nationwide. North China's Hebei and Shanxi and Northwest China's Gansu provinces each lost more than 100,000 people in the same period.

China's population reached 1.41 billion as of the end of 2021, up by 480,000 from the previous year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). From a national perspective, the natural population growth rate in 2021 was 0.34 per thousand, which was declined by 1.11 per thousand than 2020, NBS data shows.

Behind the slowdown in population growth was the continued decline in births, as a result of a decline in the number of women of childbearing age as well as a decline in fertility levels.

The reported decline was expected, as it was foreshadowed by a steady decline in birth rates that began in the early 1990s, Huang Wenzheng, a demography expert and senior researcher at the Center for China and Globalization, told the Global Times on Sunday.

The number of women of childbearing age in China decreased by about 5 million in 2021 compared with 2020, among which women aged 21 to 35 decreased by about 3 million. Affected by social factors such as delays in the age of first marriage, the total fertility rate of women of childbearing age continued to decline in 2021.

"China already faces a serious demographic crisis, with its population accounting for 18 percent of the world's total, but its newborns accounting for only 7 percent of the entire world," said Huang, while calling for urgent tools to avoid a total population collapse.

There has also been a trend of uneven distribution of the population, with Northeast China suffering from the most significant "depression" in natural population growth, while South China's Guangdong Province and East China's Zhejiang Province accounted for the largest number of births and net increases in the country.

Economic growth is one of the main factors affecting population growth and birth rates. Economic dynamism and job opportunities are playing a bigger and bigger role in the decisions of the population, especially among the younger generation, Feng Wenmeng, director of the Institute of Public Administration and Human Resources at the Development Research Center of the State Council, said in an interview with the China News Service.

According to the seventh national census, the population in northeast China decreased by 11.01 million over the past decade. Heilongjiang Province alone lost more than 6.46 million people, making it the province with the largest population loss.

In terms of the increase in the number of permanent residents, it was not Guangdong, which had the largest number of births, that held first place, but Zhejiang. The number of permanent residents in Zhejiang increased by 720,000 in 2021, exceeding the increase of 600,000 in Guangdong.

Northeast China has witnessed a serious population outflow in recent years. Cold and long winters, slowing economic growth and a lack of jobs have led to the outflow of a large number of young people, which directly results in lower fertility rates in this region, Feng said.

In contrast, Zhejiang which had the largest gain in permanent residents, has been full of vitality in its economic growth, which has generated a large number of jobs and attracted many talented people from all over the country, the expert explained.

People's willingness to raise children is also directly linked to their economic conditions and social atmosphere, Huang noted, "It can't be ignored that more and more people care more about personal fulfillment."

China's population crisis cannot be wholly addressed by the three-child policy alone or extending paid maternity leave. Other efforts such as improving the distribution of wealth, improving the pension system and reducing childcare costs should also be made, Huang emphasized.