BEIJING: China's population grew by less than half a million-last year to 1.41 billion as the birth rates fell for the fifth consecutive year, stoking fears of a looming demographic crisis and its adverse impact on the world's 2nd largest economy.
At the end of 2021, China's population on the mainland grew to 1.4126 billion from 1.4120 billion in 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on Monday.
China's population increased by 480,000 in a year-on-year comparison from 2020 down from 12 million, as per the NBS data.
The figure does not include Hong Kong and Macao residents and foreigners who live in the mainland's 31 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities, the NBS said.
The number of newborns in 2021 in the world's most populous nation stood at 10.62 million, according to the NBS data, with the birth rate at 7.52 per thousand, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The national death rate was 7.18 per thousand last year, putting the national growth rate at 0.34 per thousand. Experts have warned that a demographic turning point may be just around the corner in the world's most populous nation, and some say it threatens to erode the foundation of China's booming economic growth over the past 40 years, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
In such a situation, the ratio of people in the workforce and dependent persons (retired with pension and other benefits) may be adversely affected, straining the economy, they said.
"The most shocking part of the data released today is that the natural growth of the population has dropped to 0.34 per thousand, the first time below 1.0 since data became available," Zhang Zhiwei, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management said.
"The demographic challenge is well known, but the speed of population ageing is clearly faster than expected. This suggests China's total population may have reached its peak in 2020. It also indicates China's potential growth is likely slowing faster than expected," he told the Post.
Chen Wei, a professor with the Population Development Studies Centre at Renmin University, said "in the next 10 to 20 years, China's natural population growth will not continue to decline, but will fluctuate around zero and see small drops, but there will not be rapid decreases."
"China's total population will remain above 1.4 billion for a period of time to come," Ning Jizhe, deputy head of China's National Development and Reform Commission(NDRC), the nation's top economic planner, said.
He added that the three-child policy is expected to gradually add births, while the national life expectancy is gradually increasing.
Earlier this month, Henan province, the country's third-most-populous administrative region, reported that its number of newborn children fell to 920,000 in 2020 - a 23.3 per cent decline from 2019 - as the birth rate dropped to 9.24 births per 1,000 people.
To deal with the crisis, Chinese provinces have started announcing a slew of supportive measures to motivate couples to have three children to prevent a steep decline in birth rates.
Beijing, Sichuan and Jiangxi provinces have rolled out supportive measures such as increased parental leave, maternity leave, marriage leave and paternity leave, Xinhua news agency reported earlier.
China permitted all couples to have two children in 2016, scrapping the draconian decades-old one-child policy which policymakers blame for the current demographic crisis.
Last year China passed a revised Population and Family Planning Law allowing Chinese couples to have three children in an apparent attempt to address the reluctance of couples to have more kids due to mounting costs.
The decision to permit the third child came after the once-in-a-decade census in 2020 showed that China's population grew at its slowest pace to 1.412 billion.
The census figures revealed that the demographic crisis China faced was expected to deepen as the population above 60 years grew to 264 million up by 18.7 per cent.
Monday's data revealed that the majority of the population now live in urban areas. China's population living in urban areas increased by 12.05 million from the end of 2020 to 914.25 million by the end of 2021, representing 64.72 per cent of the total, Xinhua reported. Rural population stood at 498.35 million, down by 11.57 million from the end of 2020.