China’s Population May Peak Next Year, State Media Says
People gather at a Repulse Bay beach during its reopening in Hong Kong. (Photographer: Lam Yik/Bloomberg)

China’s Population May Peak Next Year, State Media Says

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China’s population may peak as early as 2022, state media reported, ahead of a once-in-a-decade census survey that’s yet to be published.

The number of deaths may exceed births as early as next year, the state-run Global Times newspaper quoted independent demographer He Yafu as saying. That would be much earlier than previously estimated.

A declining and aging population would have broad effects across the economy and society, likely slowing the economy’s growth rate and making it increasingly harder for the government to pay for services such as pensions and healthcare.

China’s birth rate has been declining steadily since the 1970s, due to improved education for women and the introduction of the “one child policy” aimed at limiting the population size. Beijing relaxed that policy in 2015 in the hope of reviving the birth rate, but the change has had little impact, with experts citing the rising costs of raising a child as the main barrier to larger families.

China’s Population May Peak Next Year, State Media Says

The census report is set to underline a sharp slowdown of the birth rate in the world’s most populous country. The results were initially meant to be published sometime in April, but there’s been no indication from the government on the timing of the release. That’s prompted many people to question the delay on Chinese social media, especially after the Financial Times reported this week that the census will show a decline in the population, citing unidentified sources.

The State Council, a top government body, forecast in 2017 that the population peak would come “around 2030,” while a 2019 report from a state-backed think tank forecast the population would stop growing in 2029 after reaching 1.42 billion people. More recently, government-linked economists had suggested the peak would come during the next few years.

Cai Fang, a specialist in population economics, told a forum last year that the peak could come in 2025. Cai was at a government-linked think tank then and is now a member of the central bank’s monetary policy committee. Researchers at the central bank this month called for the removal of birth restrictions.

It’s unlikely the latest census report will show a drop in the population, researchers said.

Wang Feng, a demographer at the University of California Irvine, said the census usually undercounts new births in the year it is conducted, for a range of reasons connected with the fact it is carried out door-to-door during the course of a calendar year. A smaller-scale survey is also conducted to estimate the rate of under-counting and adjust the number upwards to produce a more reliable population estimate, he added.

It’s “highly unlikely” there’ll be a drop in the total population in the census, Lu Jiehua, a professor of demographics at Peking University, told the Global Times. The results of the census may give impetus to changes in family planning policy and prompt the full lifting of birth restrictions by 2022, the newspaper said, citing unnamed Chinese experts.

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