Summary

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 results of the latest Chinese census are expected to show that the national population has dipped under 1.4 billion, below the 2019 total. The inflection point came seven years ahead of the schedule previously laid out by UN projections, which saw a peak in 2027. It even caught policymakers in China by surprise: the 2016 five-year plan originally foresaw a 2020 population of 1.42 billion, up on an expected birth bump following the relaxation of the one-child policy. China’s population was 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.