China's births hit historic low, barely outpacing death rate

The number of births fell to 10.6 million in 2021, compared with 12 million the year before, the National Bureau of Statistics reported on Monday. That was the lowest number since the Communist Party founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949. It is fewer even than in 1961, when the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong’s economic policy, resulted in widespread famine and death.

“China is facing a demographic crisis that is beyond the imagination of the Chinese authorities and the international community,” said Yi Fuxian, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who has long argued that China’s Communist Party leaders were underreporting population figures.

The decline in birthrate and the increased life expectancy that has accompanied China’s economic transformation over the last four decades means there will soon be a decline in the number of people of working age relative to the growing number of people too old to work. That could result in labor shortages, which could hamper economic growth and decrease tax revenue.