Wednesday, February 10, 2021

China's Population Woes

While China currently looks to be taking over the world, it faces serious problems. For right now, the PRC's economy is slowing significantly. But in the longer term the country looks to be caught in the classic ‘middle income trap’, in which the population grows old before the country becomes rich. 

Now comes news that China is poised to move into long term population decline, with nearly a third of its population above working age and new births plummeting. Overall, new births were down 15% from 2019, while in some regions the decline was as much as 30%. China lacks a true social security net and has relied on the younger generation to support the elderly, but this system will become increasingly strained as the population continues to age rapidly--and to shrink. For more specifics:

China population: Tumbling regional birth rates signal scale of country's ageing crisis

Note well--this isn't simply a 'problem'. It's a crisis for the economy and for the social fabric of the country.

The second half of the article goes into the implications of this crisis, beginning with a quote from an official at a government supported population think tank:

“We can say that even though the number of births in 2020 might be the lowest in recent decades, it is likely to be the highest in the next few decades, unless miraculous achievements were made via encouraging births in the future.”

This is not so far from the central government’s own estimates. Over the next five years, China’s total population will enter the range of zero growth, meaning the annual gap between births and deaths will shrink to only 1 million, even though the total population will remain above 1.4 billion, according to the China Population and Development Research Centre, an official think tank.


Chinese mothers gave birth to 14.65 million babies in 2019, the lowest level since 1961.

China is not the only east Asian country suffering from declining births and an ageing population. Last year, South Korea’s population dropped for the first time on record. Russia’s population also shrank by 500,000 people in 2020, the largest decline in 15 years.

Rapidly ageing populations have put pressure on governments in Asia, as the potential for growth eases amid shrinking labour supply and the burden of caring for the elderly increases.

In theory, countries can offset the impact by improving labour productivity and capital investment, but that is “a gravity defying act,” said economists from French bank Natixis in a note in December.

“With fewer workers and an increased elderly population requiring more savings to sustain spending in retirement, greater pressure on public finances is expected,” the bank said. “As such, the more prepared an economy can be while still youthful, the more likely it is to age gracefully.

“With lower potential output, assuming all else is equal, the goal to rapidly grow GDP per capita or the standard of living, is more difficult. Some Asian economies, such as China and Thailand, will still be in the ‘middle income trap’ when they rapidly age.”


  1. I agree the birth rate and aging population is a huge issue for China, especially with an imbalance of male vs female births.

    Automation is having a huge impact on jobs and productivity.

    Health vs age has also been increasing dramatically.

    And with a dictatorship, we will see what China does on the birth rate issue.

    1. I'm thinking birth factories.

    2. Once you get into that trap it's almost impossible to get out of it--as many EU countries are discovering. Asian countries, with their huge imbalance between M/F births, thanks to sex selective abortions, have greased the slippery slope.

    3. Easy solution (?): conquer other countries (e.g. the US), import slave labor (to improve labour productivity, by dropping wage costs to near zero).
      Han Chinese could be the new Brahmins, and foreign slaves, the new Untouchables.

    4. I'm thinking slave labor; not just Uighars with forced births and labor but beyond like Northeastern India or other methods to claim land. In addition, their "deals" with the governments in Africa will provide them with anything they wish. Just watch.

    5. The quick answer would be for the HAN Chinese to marry the women of the diaspora. But the problem is that many of those women will not put up with the censorious heavy handed CCP. Han Chinese are notoriously racist. I lived and worked with many of them and in many social occasions they let their true feelings show.

      Slave labor will not be a panacea as they run out of guards to keep their economic machine chugging along. Eventually the overseers will demand entry into the club.

      Science Fiction points to a possible solution of having invitro pregnancy. The Chinese mindset about individuals being subservient to the state would allow them to experiment with that potential. Who knows. Maybe the Matrix pods will be a feature.


    6. You can call them Racist but I think of them as Based. I lived/worked there for a few years and they are 91% Han and unified. Much like the USA of old. The left calls any non POC nation racist that doesn't glorify it's minorities at the expense of the majority. China is highly Unwoke and I admire that about them.

    7. If I were a lifelong Chinese dictator, I would look at the problem from the other end, like Alexander the Great looked at the Gordian's knot.

      Death age and death rate can be managed you know, especially in an era of pandemics affecting elderly.

  2. "In theory, countries can offset the impact by improving labour productivity and capital investment..."

    In theory, a country can offset the impact of a declining birthrate by, for example, encouraging immigration.

    Fat chance of that happening in today's China.

    But, as far as problems facing China are concerned, the declining birth rate, automation and an aging population are only a few of them.

    Just to mention a few more off the top of my head:

    China has massive debt, associated with both non-productive real estate and over-leveraged businesses. Supply chains are moving out of China as the world has realized that it is overly dependent on Chinese sourcing. Chinese manufacturing has been and will be deeply impacted. China has never solved its natural resources problems and it is dependent on Middle Eastern and other foreign sources of oil to keep its factories and vehicles running. Foreign oil requires a navy and protected sea lanes, which China does not (yet) have and are very expensive to maintain. China also has major environmental problems, not limited to the CO2 emissions problems relating to the Paris accords. China is also exposed to serious human rights concerns and instability, in Hong Kong and in western China. And then there are the ramifications of the covid pandemic. This is a brief and hardly exclusive list of the challenges facing China.

    A few years ago there was a popular book circulating called the Accidental Superpower by Peter Zeihan which convincingly describes the geopolitical and natural advantages of the United States, especially as compared to China. I highly recommend it, although celebrating our enormous advantages as a country today is hardly politically correct.

    1. China’s market has long been Ahab’s Great White Whale, but for some Ahab won, although at a great cost that goes far beyond profits.

  3. Tangentially, China Zhou announced a "China Task Force" today with the amorphous objectives of "charging forward" and "winning the competition" with China. The task Force will NOT issue a final report we're told. We're left to guess what the true intent is, presumably to find more abject ways of following China from behind.

  4. O/T but related, I read that in Muslim countries birthrates are around 8:1 that of US, UK & EU, but high infant mortality.

    More importantly,similar birthrates happening in Muslim communities within* US, UK and EU seeing infant mortality rates (of course) in line with those of each country, respectively.

    In other words, the birth trajectory of those of Muslim religion is currently pacing to "breed out" non- Muslims. I will see if I can find that link.

    1. Dave, that "information" seems clearly wrong. Several important Muslim countries are below or nearly so re replacement (Iran, Turkey, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Morocco).

      Demographic Trends in Muslim Countries

    2. Demographic trends globally show that with the exception of a few African countries, most nations now face populations trends that do not sustain replacement.
      Living and working in East Asia for several years, it seemed that as many of these nations became more prosperous, populations declined as women became increasingly interested in careers and starting families much later. This trend is seemingly borne out globally.
      If memory serves, China aborted females for male heirs during the one child policy years. Females were finally being brought in from Manchuria, generally not Han Chinese, as authorities feared a restless, young male population.
      In any event, long-trend models show significant population numbers for most countries, Japan has lost about 25% of its population for example, and China is predicted to lose similar numbers of the next 50-100 years.

    3. Those changes in demographics change the whole structure and dynamic of a society. This is what China is about to experience, as well as other countries in Asia.

  5. @Mark, thanks: I found the link with 'information'. Its interesting how the brain works. I read that 'article' months ago accepted it subconsciously and went on.

    Revisit today and its from a site that is so patently 'anti' it doesn't warrant a second look, let alone a link.

    Thanks for calling it out -

  6. I understand there are a lot of refugees around the world that might be amenable to immigrating to China.

  7. The US' population situation actually is reason for a positive look at immigration rather than a negative one.

    But PJBuchanan's warning should be observed: allow and encourage immigration from CULTURALLY-COMPATIBLE countries. Muslim/Hindu are--frankly--not compatible with the Judaeo-Christian culture.