In China, the first reduction in the number of the population in recent years was recorded against the backdrop of a drop in the birth rate

BEIJING — China reported its first overall population decline in years amid an aging population and falling birthrate.

The Office for National Statistics reported that there were 850,000 fewer people in the country at the end of 2022 than the previous year. It only takes into account the population of mainland China, excluding Hong Kong and Macau, as well as foreign residents.

That left a total of 1,411.75 billion, with 9.56 million births against 10.41 million deaths, the bureau said at a briefing on Tuesday.

Men also continued to outnumber women by 722.06 million to 689.69 million, the bureau said, as a result of the strict one-child policy, which officially ended only in 2016, and the traditional preference for male offspring to carry on the family name.

Since abandoning the policy, China has sought to encourage families to have second and even third children, but without success. The cost of raising children in Chinese cities is often cited as a reason, mirroring attitudes in much of East Asia, where birth rates have fallen sharply.

China has long been the world’s most populous country, but is expected to be overtaken by India soon, if it hasn’t already. India’s population is estimated to be over 1.4 billion and growing.

China is believed to have last recorded a population decline during the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s, Mao Zedong’s disastrous drive for collective farming and industrialization that led to mass starvation that killed tens of millions of people.

The bureau reported that there are 875.56 million Chinese people of working age between 16 and 59, accounting for 62.0% of the country’s population, while those aged 65 and over number 209.78 million, accounting for 14.9 % of the total.

The statistics also showed an increase in urbanization in a country that until recently was predominantly rural. In 2022, the permanent urban population increased by 6.46 million people and reached 920.71 million people, or 65.22%, while the rural population decreased by 7.31 million people.

There was no direct comment on the possible population impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, which was first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading around the world. Some experts have accused China of understating deaths from the virus by blaming them on underlying diseases, but no estimates of the true number have been released.

The United Nations estimated last year that the world’s population reached 8 billion on November 15 and that India will replace China as the world’s most populous country in 2023.

In a report released on World Population Day, the UN also said global population growth fell below 1% in 2020 for the first time since 1950.

Also on Tuesday, the bureau released data showing that China’s economic growth fell to its second-lowest level in four decades last year under pressure from anti-virus controls and falling real estate.

The world’s No. 2 economy grew by 3% in 2022, less than double the previous year’s 8.1%, the data showed.

It was the second-lowest annual rate since at least the 1970s, after 2020, when growth fell to 2.4% at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, although activity is recovering after the lifting of restrictions that kept millions at home and sparked protests.

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