Births drop 2 years in row in China

BEIJING. KAZINFORM - Births on the Chinese mainland declined by 2 million last year, the second consecutive year of decline since a universal second-child policy was adopted, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Monday, China Daily reports.

Last year, 15.23 million babies were born on the mainland, compared with 17.23 million in 2017, while the birthrate dropped in 2018 to 10.94 per 1,000 from 12.43 per 1,000 in 2017, according to the bureau.

The Chinese mainland's population reached 1.395 billion last year, an increase of 5.3 million year-on-year, the figures showed.

Before Monday's report, population experts had predicted the number of births would continue to fall in 2018, despite a relaxed family planning policy that allowed all couples to have two children.

Huang Kuangshi, a population researcher at the National Health Commission's China Population and Development Research Center, earlier this month had estimated the number of births last year at between 15 million and 16 million.

China allowed all couples to have two children at the beginning of 2016, a relaxation of family planning policy to ease problems such as a dwindling workforce and rapid aging of the population. Births that year increased by 1.3 million to 17.86 million, the highest level since 2000, but the number fell by more than half a million in 2017.

Yuan Xin, a professor of population studies at Nankai University, said although population researchers generally agreed births would continue to fall last year, he was still a little surprised to learn the decline was by 2 million.

"It means the number of births last year decreased by about 12 percent year-on-year, which is a steep decline," he said. "The number of births last year was the third lowest of the past 70 years. Only in 1960 and 1961 was the number of births smaller."

Many reasons are cited for the birthrate drop last year, including the decreasing number of women of childbearing age, the lack of willingness to have children because of higher costs of raising and educating children, an increase in people who choose to remain single and increased incidences of infertility, Yuan said.

The number of women between 20 and 34 - the ages when most women give birth in China - has been dropping by around 2.8 million annually over the past few years, he said. The number of births will continue to fall over the next few years, he added.

"The decreasing number of births and population is an irresistible trend," he said. "More measures are needed to establish a family-friendly society so couples are freed from worries and want to give birth to a second child."

It is not so unusual that the number of births would drop by over 2 million year-on-year in China, given that the last seven decades have seen nine cases of annual decline of more than 2 million, he said. China's birthrate was significantly higher at times in the past.

"More intensified analysis and research is needed to evaluate the causes and consequences of the decline in births," he said.

The workforce - those between 16 and 59 years old - stood at around 897 million, accounting for 64.3 percent of the total population, the statistics bureau said on Monday.

Ning Jizhe, head of the bureau, said China still has a massive workforce, and it can sustain China's economic growth in the future with improvements in the quality of the workforce.

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