China is facing yet another demographic challenge. According to a report by the National Health and Family Planning Commission, the nation’s net population growth for the first eight months of this year was only 4.1 million. This puts the largest nation in the world close to being overtaken by India.
India’s population expanded by some 14 million during the same period, to a size that is closer than ever to its rival: India’s 1.336 billion versus China’s 1.339 billion as of September 9, 2018, according to estimates by the United States Census Bureau’s World Population Clock.
Top demographers feel that within three to five years, India will overtake China as the world’s most populous country.
Worse still, China is now slipping deeper into a demographic sinkhole. An ever-increasing percentage of Chinese of prime reproductive ages are either too overstretched financially to have more babies or simply not interested in becoming parents at all.
Beijing’s scrapping of its oppressive decades-long one-child rule and further policy loosening since 2015 have received a lukewarm response, even while China’s population growth rate of 0.59% meant it ranked 159th worldwide.
About 17.23 million babies were born in China last year, down from 17.86 million in 2016, falling marginally short of Beijing’s projection of 18 million births. This has taken the country further away from an estimated need for 20 million births required annually to sustain a demographic turnaround to shore up China’s workforce and to offset the nation’s rapidly aging population.
One of the problems is a sharp decline in fertility, which is due in part to a big drop in women of childbearing age: a census from 2010 projected the number to fall by 40% by 2025.
Strikingly, a survey also found that the total number of births in eastern China’s Shandong province, where residents “have the greatest wish to have a second child,” dropped in 2017 over the previous year.
While many would like to have more than one child, respondents said they couldn’t afford the expense.
Newborns are becoming an “endangered species” in China’s northeastern provinces now known as the nation’s rust belt, where the total fertility rate, or the average number of babies a woman will have over her lifetime, already stood at an alarmingly low level of 0.55 in 2015.
Another report by China’s top political advisory body, the People’s Political Consultative Conference, estimated that the country’s labor supply will drop by 100 million every 15 years after 2020, and urged more incentives for having children.