BEIJING (Reuters) – The number of newborns in China plummeted 15% in 2020 from a year earlier, according to the Ministry of Public Security, with the onset of the novel coronavirus disrupting the economy and weighing on decisions to have a family.
China saw 10.035 million births last year, the ministry said on Monday, compared with 11.79 million in 2019. Of those born last year, 52.7% were boys and 47.3% girls.
Posts on Chinese social media with the hashtag “How to get China out of a low fertility trap” were viewed 120 million times as of Tuesday, with some comments linking low fertility rates to high living costs, while others said social norms were changing.
“The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool,” wrote a user of Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog popular in China.
In recent years, many Chinese couples have been reluctant to have children due to the rising cost of health care, education and housing. China’s decision in 2016 to abandon its decades-long one-child policy has not provided much impetus to the country’s birth rate.
The economic uncertainties brought on by COVID-19 last year have further weighed on decisions to have children, extending a long-term birth decline in the world’s most populous but fast-ageing nation.
About a fifth of Chinese citizens are aged 60 and above, or around 250 million people.
Rapid ageing will create policy headwinds for Chinese leaders as they promise to guarantee health care and pension payments, despite an expected shrinking of the labour force and challenges to lifting China’s slowing labour productivity.
“Instead of encouraging multiple births, it would be better to work hard on lifting the ‘quality’ of the new population,” another Weibo user wrote.
China’s National Bureau of Statistics is expected to release official 2020 population data in late February.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo in Beijing and Engen Tham in Shanghai; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Michael Perry, Himani Sarkar and Gareth Jones)