Tuesday, January 9, 2024
Year : 1, Issue : 19
China’s population likely dropped for a second consecutive year in 2023 due to a surge in COVID-related deaths after the country abruptly ended strict lockdowns, while weak confidence in the economy’s prospects keeps birth rates depressed.
Demographers estimate population data on Jan 17 to show the number of new births in 2023 falling below the 9.56 million in 2022 as long-standing issues such as gender inequality and high childcare costs remained largely unaddressed. China’s birth rate has been declining since 2016.
Further denting appetite for baby-making, youth unemployment hit record highs, wages for many civil servants and white-collar workers fell, and a crisis in the property sector, where more than two thirds of household wealth is stored, intensified.
The data will add to concerns that the world’s second-largest economy’s growth prospects are diminishing due to fewer workers and consumers, while costs with elderly care and retirement benefits put more strain on indebted local governments.
“The slower-than-expected economic recovery and the uncertainty of the future in China play a bigger role” in fertility than any positive effect coming from lifting COVID curbs, said Xiujian Peng, senior research fellow at the Centre of Policy Studies at Victoria University in Melbourne.
Demographers expect deaths to have risen sharply, as the COVID-19 virus swept through China’s 1.41 billion population early last year after Beijing unexpectedly removed restrictions in December 2022.
China reported 121,889 total COVID deaths to the World Health Organisation, most of which would have occurred after the curbs were dismantled. The UN body had criticised Beijing for underreporting deaths, which officials repeatedly denied.
Overwhelmed crematoriums and pressure on doctors not to classify deaths as COVID-related had fuelled suspicion over China’s data transparency. In a rare move last July, China’s Zhejiang province, home to 5% of the country’s population, reported a 70% surge in cremations in January-March last year. The data has since been taken down.
One study by Seattle-based Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center estimated 1.87 million excess deaths over what would normally be expected from all causes among Chinese older than 30 between December 2022 and January 2023.