China does the population drop… again

Much like our in-laws sending us passive-aggressive Facebook posts, China is hassling its population to have kids. And also like our in-laws, China’s efforts have been ignored.

What happened: China’s population declined for the second straight year, shrinking by 2.08 million people last year, a greater decline than the previous year’s loss of 850,000. In 2023, there were only 9.02 million births compared to 11.1 million deaths, the highest death rate since 1974.  

  • China now has more older people than anywhere in the world, and not a lot of babies are stepping in to replace them. A study projected that China's population will shrink to under 800 million by 2100, compared to ~1.4 billion at the end of 2023.

Why it’s happening: The writing has been on the walls for a while, which is why China dropped its one-child policy in 2016. However, births have continued to plummet as young people struggle to afford kids in a tough economic environment, and women reject calls to settle down and start families.

  • Both federal and local governments have offered women incentives like cheaper housing, tax breaks, and straight cash — along with some coercion — to try and convince them to have second and third kids. 

  • However, women have broadly ignored these calls. They are rejecting traditional gender roles and instead prioritizing their careers, questioning the lack of support for mothers and families, or still feeling cultural stigma around having multiple kids from the one-child policy days.

Why it matters: China’s giant workforce helped it earn sick nicknames like the “global economic engine.” With its human population now vanishing faster than its pandas, the rest of the world will have to look elsewhere for a new factory floor to drive global manufacturing.

Zoom out: China’s population drop isn’t the only thing ailing it. Despite reporting official growth of 5.2% last year (a figure some experts doubt), it faces a youth unemployment problem, its property sector bubble has burst, and foreign investors are pulling out faster than you can say zàijiàn.—QH