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China’s census could point to a threatening demographic slide



BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s decade-long census is expected to show a further decline in the proportion of young people in the rapidly aging population, as high living costs and a reluctance to have children among urban couples are pushing China closer to a demographic crunch.

FILE PHOTO: Marriage Liu Zhichang (L) and Yu Tao go on a date after finishing gymnastics in Beijing, China on March 13, 2021. REUTERS / Tingshu Wang

Politicians are under pressure to come up with family planning incentives and arrest a declining birth rate, where the world̵

7;s most populous country risks entering an irreversible population slippage if effective measures are not found.

China is expected to announce the results of its latest census, conducted in late 2020, in the coming days. The proportion of the elderly in the population is thought to have increased, but more significant will be the data on its youth.

In 2010, the proportion of the population aged 14 years or less fell to 16.60% from 22.89% in 2000, an effect of a decades-old one-child policy. Citizens aged 60 and over accounted for 13.26%, up from approx. 10%.

The continuation of these trends will undermine China’s working age population and weigh on productivity. A shrinking pool of working adults will also test its ability to pay and take care of an aging nation.

In 2016, China removed the policy of having a child in hopes of increasing the number of babies. It also set a goal of increasing the population to approx. 1.42 billion by 2020 from 1.34 billion in 2010.

But the birth rate continues to decline.

This is due in part to the fact that couples in the cities, despite parental pressure to have babies, value their independence and career more than starting a family.

Yu Tao, 31, a Beijing-based product designer for a major technology company, said he was reluctant to sacrifice in terms of the time he would have if he and his wife had a baby.

As it is, he usually comes home from work no earlier than midnight.

“I like my balance right now, how I balance between my work and my personal life, and I don’t think I can still be in that good balance once I have a child,” Yu said.

UNREVERSIBLE SLIDE?

Yu and his wife have a total income of more than 700,000 yuan ($ 106,888) a year, but said they did not feel financially secure enough to have a child even though they earn significantly more than an average household.

The annual disposable income per. Per capita was 43,834 yuan in 2020 compared to 19,109 yuan in 2010, official data show.

“We are not ready for a child both financially and mentally,” Yu said.

Rising cost of living in big cities, a major source of babies due to their huge population, has also discouraged couples from children, especially housing costs.

Among urban households, the annual expenditure per Per capita housing to 6,958 yuan in 2020 against 1,332 yuan in 2010, according to official data, more than five times.

“If the government simply allows people to have children without political support, it is unlikely to have much of an impact,” said social and labor expert Liu Kaiming.

“In general, the issue of people being reluctant to have children or having fewer is irreversible.”

State media have made increasingly gloomy predictions, saying the population may begin to shrink in the next few years – a gloomier forecast than the United Nations, which predicts a population peak in 2030 and then a decline.

In 2016, China set a 2020 target for its fertility rate of around 1.8 children per capita. Female, up from 1.5-1.6 in 2015.

If the rate falls below 1.5, many demographers say China will probably never get out of its so-called fertility trap.

Recent comments from the Minister of Civil Affairs that the fertility rate had already crossed a “warning line” and that the population had entered a critical transition period went viral on social media.

($ 1 = 6.5489 Chinese yuan)

Reporting by Ryan Woo; Additional reporting from Liangping Gao, Lusha Zhang and Beijing newsrooms; Edited by Robert Birsel


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