China’s demographic decline is a tale long foretold by the country’s aging population, low birthrate, lack of outside immigration, and the legacy of the one-child policy. But it wasn’t meant to happen quite so soon.
The latest census data from China shows that the national population has dipped for the first time since 1961, reaching 1.41175 billion in 2022, down from 1.4126 billion the year before. The release confirms a new normal of population decline after decades of demographic and economic growth. The reversal has been heavily hinted at in recent years, if not openly acknowledged by the authorities – at least until now.
Official recognition confirms that China’s demographic inflection point has arrived far ahead of schedule. The United Nations, for example, had previously projected the peak at 2027. China policymakers were also caught by surprise: the 2016 five-year plan originally foresaw a 2020 population of 1.42 billion, bolstered by an expected birth bump following the relaxation of the one-child policy. China’s population stood at 1.38 billion in 2015.
The decline marks the advent of a demographic trend that will continue reverberate through China’s economy – and society – for decades to come.