BEIJING — China’s population grew by the slowest increase on record last year, even as a decline in new births slowed.
Total population in the mainland, excluding foreigners, reached 1.41 billion people as of the end of last year — an increase of 480,000 people compared to 2020, the National Bureau of Statistics said Monday.
“The most shocking part of the data release today is that the natural growth of population has dropped to 0.034%, the first [increase] below 0.1% since data [became] available,” Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset Management, said in a note Monday.
The low growth rate shows the population is aging faster than expected and suggests China’s total population may have reached its peak in 2021, he said. It “indicates China’s potential growth is likely slowing faster than expected,” Zhang said.
The world’s second-largest economy is aging rapidly. Beijing announced last year that each couple could now have three children, further loosening family planning policies that limited households to one child for decades.
New births in mainland China fell by 13% in 2021 to 10.62 million babies, according to official data. That’s down from a 22% decline in 2020 compared to the prior year, the data showed.
The natural growth rate refers to the difference between the number of live births and deaths in a year, divided by the average population that year and multiplied by 1,000.
The rate rose in 2016 compared to the previous year, after a policy change allowed families to have two children, but the slowdown in natural growth rate has only accelerated in the years since.
China’s natural population growth rate of 0.034% for 2021 was the lowest since 1960, when the population contracted, according to data accessed through the Wind Information database. For every other year since 1952, the data showed that the natural growth rate has been above 0.1%.
The natural growth rate was 0.145% in 2020, and 0.332% in 2019.
When asked about the population figures on Monday, National Bureau of Statistics Commissioner Ning Jizhe attributed part of the slowing growth to a decline in the number of women of childbearing age.
The number of women between the ages of 21 to 35 declined by 3 million in 2021, Ning told reporters. He said China’s annual number of births is expected to remain above 10 million a year, and the total population will likely remain above 1.4 billion people for the near future.