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What Happened Last Year in China for the First Time in 6 Decades?

By Kevin Hellyer
Updated May 16, 2024
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For decades, discussions of China’s population revolved mainly around two topics – the controversial one-child policy and the country’s status as the most populous nation on Earth. Things have certainly changed. Last year, for the first time in six decades, China’s population declined. The drop of 850,000 brought the Chinese population to 1.411 billion.

Less than a decade after the end of the one-child policy (originally instituted to boost economic growth), China is now trying to recover its birthrate by offering tax incentives and subsidies for families to have two or three children – but this has been met with ambivalence. It's just too expensive, many young couples say, also worrying about the country's lack of social security infrastructure for taking care of an aging population. And as only children themselves, many people in their 20s and 30s are facing the prospect of caring for aging parents on their own.

Another notable indication of China’s changing demographics is that sometime this year, India is expected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country. In fact, according to UN projections, China could have fewer than 800 million people by the end of the century.

The changing face of China's population:

  • The one-child policy came to an end in 2015, when couples were permitted to have two children. In 2021, this was increased to three children.

  • Prior to 2022, China's most recent population decline occurred in the early 1960s, due to harsh famine conditions caused by Mao Zedong's "Great Leap Forward.

  • China isn't the only East Asian country facing a declining birthrate, an aging population, and slowing economic growth. Japan and South Korea are in similar situations – with South Korea facing its first-ever population drop in 2020.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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