China’s Population Set To Peak In 2023

Chinese children
Chinese children hold flags during a rehearsal prior to the opening of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) 2018 Beijing Summit in Beijing, China September 3, 2018. (Photo: How Hwee Young/POOL Via REUTERS)

China's population will reach its highest level in 2023, which is six years earlier than anticipated, but will then irrevocably be on the decline, says a new study. This demographic emergency brings with it the urgent need for China to advance automation and find a way to better care for its growing number of elderly citizens.

A study by online database company Global Demographics Ltd in Hong Kong and AI-driven analytics firm Complete Intelligence in Texas forecast peak population for China in 2023 and not 2029, as estimated by the Chinese government.

The sharp drop in births is being driven by a "maternity cliff," according to the report by both firms. The number of women of childbearing age in China (or those aged 15 to 49, according to the firms) will likely decline to 318 million in 2023 from 346 million in 2018.

Because of the fewer women of childbearing age and fewer births per 1,000 women, the total number of newborns will drop, as well. The study predicts that 13.3 million babies will be born in China in 2023, or 13 percent lower compared to 15.2 million in 2018.

"What we see is the rate of growth slowing pretty, pretty quickly," said Tony Nash, CEO, and founder of Complete Intelligence. "People had expected peak population in China to be a decade away, when in fact, it's not. It's right around the corner."

The report said Chinese mothers are no longer delivering on "pent-up demand" for children since the controversial One-Chid Policy was lifted in 2015 to counter the growing problem of China's rapidly aging population.

It also said China's solution to the One Child Policy, which is the Two-Child Policy, came "a little too late" to reverse the demographic decline.

The number of births per 1,000 Chinese women rose sharply from 45.6 in 2015 to 49.9 in 2016, the year when all Chinese couples were allowed to have two children. In 2018, however, the figure fell sharply to 43.9. Total births fell 12 percent from 2017 to 2018.

Clint Laurent, founder of Global Demographics said China's "delaying relaxation of the One-Child Policy means it is now short of childbearing women."

Nash noted that the real issue "is that every woman who will have a child before 2035 is already alive."

"There's really nothing that the Chinese government can do to force more babies," he noted, unless each woman has "profoundly" more children. A spike of this magnitude is "unlikely" as China gets wealthier, noted Nash.

He also said that Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and China will all have peaked in population by 2023.

"If that part of the world is going to continue to manufacture (around 35%) of global goods, they're going to have to take a serious look at automation," he said.

With no young, new entrants to the workforce, it will be "much more difficult" for China to have an average cost per worker that's "affordable and competitive globally," said Nash.

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