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New Stat Hints at a 'Demographic Time Bomb'

Low birth rate, low death rate in China has researchers, economists there worried
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 17, 2020 9:42 AM CST

(Newser) – There's a "looming crisis" brewing in China, one the New York Times says could eventually have a "seismic effect." Per the country's National Bureau of Statistics, about 14.6 million babies were born there last year, an almost 4% drop from 2018. It's the lowest official number since 1961, when a famine struck the nation. And it's the third year in a row that such numbers have fallen. The BBC describes these stats, combined with an also-low death rate, as a "demographic time bomb," as the number of younger people available to take care of the older generations—a cultural expectation in China—dwindles. More on this slowdown and what it could mean in the years to come:

  • What's driving the decline: A variety of trends, including more educated women who are working and don't need to marry for financial security, as well as the high cost of living, which jumps if a couple decide to add kids to the mix, per the Times. As a University of California-Irvine sociology professor succinctly puts it, "It's a society where nobody wants to get married and people can't afford to have children."

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  • A controversial policy: The Chinese government nixed its one-child mandate in 2015, upping the number of kids each couple could have to two. That was supposed to help boost the birth rate, and it did, slightly, in 2016—but that was the last time.
  • The financials: How the Chinese economy will be affected by a graying population that's not being injected with youth is a big concern, as productivity suffers and health care costs jump for the aging, among other factors. "The declining number of newborns may not necessarily hurt the economy much in the short term, but it casts a shadow over China's growth in two or three decades," an analyst tells the South China Morning Post.
  • Regional worries: Neighbors to China are experiencing similar woes. Japan's 2019 birth number came in at 864,000, which was its lowest figure since 1899, when records on this started. South Korea also hit a record low last year, with a fertility rate of 0.98. That means women there will on average have less than one baby each in their lifetimes; CNN notes a fertility rate of 2 is needed to stabilize the population.
  • A grain-of-salt warning: The Wall Street Journal notes that some are iffy on China's stats on population, births, and deaths, with researchers, demographers, and economists pointing out certain irregularities and discrepancies.
(Read more China stories.)

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