An anonymous reader quotes a report from Science.org: After many decades of growth, China’s population could begin to shrink this year, suggest data released yesterday by China’s National Bureau of Statistics. The numbers show that in 2021, China’s birth rate fell for the fifth year in a row, to a record low of 7.52 per 1000 people. Based on that number, demographers estimate the country’s total fertility rate — the number of children a person will bear over their lifetime — is down to about 1.15, well below the replacement rate of 2.1 and one of the lowest in the world.

Young couples are deciding against having more children, “despite all the new initiatives and propaganda to promote childbearing,” says Yong Cai, a demographer at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “China’s population decline will be rapid,” he predicts. The shift from growth to decline has happened startlingly fast. Projections made just a few years ago suggested China’s population would expand until around 2027. Last year, when it announced results from the 2020 census, the statistics bureau still pegged the total fertility rate at 1.3. The report also found that China is becoming ever more urbanized, “with nearly 65% of the population now living in urban areas, up 0.8 percentage points from 2020,” reports Science.org. The crowded housing, high living costs, and exorbitant education expenses all “reduce people’s willingness to have a second child, let alone a third child,” says Wei Guo, a demographer at Nanjing University.

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