BEIJING – China’s birth rate dropped to an all-time high last year, highlighting a looming demographic crisis for Beijing caused by an aging workforce, a slowing economy and the weakest population growth for decades.
China relaxed its “one-child policy” – one of the world’s strictest family planning regulations – in 2016, allowing couples to have two children. Earlier this year, that was extended to three children.
But the changes have not resulted in the hoped-for baby boom, as the cost of living rises and women increasingly make their own choices about family planning.
Last year, China registered 8.52 births per 1,000 people according to the 2021 Statistical Yearbook released last week, the lowest figure since the yearbook data began in 1978.
This is a marked drop from 10.41 the previous year and the lowest figure since the founding of Communist China in 1949, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
Additionally, the yearbook showed that the number of registered marriages in 2020 hit its lowest level in 17 years, with just 8.14 million couples getting married last year.
During the initial COVID-19 outbreak, parts of central China were placed under tight control for months and across the country, many government offices were temporarily closed.
For most of the past year, however, there were few formal restrictions on the normal conduct of marriages.
The number of divorces fell for the first time in at least 30 years, after the introduction of a mandatory 30-day “cooling off period” for couples going through a divorce in early 2020.
The directory data highlights many social trends troubling Beijing’s leaders, which have pushed for a socially conservative agenda for society with women as wives and mothers.
The results of a decennial census announced in May showed that China’s population has grown at its slowest rate since the 1960s.
Amid official efforts to raise birth rates, Beijing in September called for a reduction in interruptions that are not “medically necessary.”
Some questions have also been raised about the reliability of Chinese data.
Bloomberg calculations on Wednesday suggest that China underestimated the number of births between 2000 and 2010 by at least 11.6 million, according to the discrepancies between the statistical yearbook, for which surveys are conducted every year, and the decennial census.
Two marriage data hashtags were released this week on the Twitter-like social network Weibo, with more than 140 million views.
“I think raising a cat is difficult, let alone getting married and having children,” complained one Internet user on the wire.
Others said the divorce retraction period has deterred people from rushing into marriage. – France Media Agency