China’s birthrate in 2019 hit its lowest level since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, according to official statistics released by Beijing Friday.
Chinese mothers gave birth to 14.65 million children last year, a birth rate of 10.48 babies per 1,000 people, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics.
China’s demographic issues could pose serious issues for the world’s second-largest economy when the current working-age population reaches retirement. Experts worry if the trend continues, or the population begins shrinking, China may get old before it gets rich.
Demographers have long pointed to China’s “one-child policy” as the culprit of the country’s current population problems. For decades, couples in China were limited to only having a single child, unless they were willing to break the law or had the money to work around the system.
Experts say the policy had dire effects on age demographics and sex ratio, as many poor, rural families who prized boys due to traditional cultural values went to extreme measures to ensure their child’s sex.
The figure is forecast to rise to a third of the population by 2050 – or 480 million people. A study published by a leading state-sponsored Chinese think tank last year found that the country will face an “unstoppable” population decline over the coming decades, with fewer and fewer workers struggling to support an increasingly aging society.
The ruling Communist Party has attempted to combat demographic issues by encouraging families to have more babies, but many middle class families are wary to do so because of financial considerations.
A survey conducted in 2017 found that more than 50% of families have no intention of having a second child, with many saying they believed it was too expensive.
However, it’s unclear how reliable the figures are, as Beijing has been accused of meddling with its statistics for political gain by Western governments and academics like Yi Fuxian, who studies Chinese demographics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Yi said in a statement that the numbers are likely overstated because they are heavily influenced by external factors.
China’s neighbors in Northeast Asia are dealing with similar demographic issues – graying populations that aren’t having enough children to replace them.
The number of babies born in Japan in 2019 fell to 864,000 – the lowest since records began in 1899 – according to a report published the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
South Korea’s fertility rate hit a record low last year of 0.98, or fewer than one baby per woman in the population. To maintain a stable population, countries need a fertility rate of 2 – anything above that indicates population growth.
CNN’s Erin Chan, Yong Xiong and Serenitie Wang contributed to this report.