Children play at a playground inside a shopping complex in Shanghai, China
Mainland China's birth rate dropped to a record low of 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021, National Bureau of Statistics data showed on Monday, accelerating a downward trend that led Beijing last year to begin allowing couples to have up to three children.
China scrapped its decades-old one-child policy in 2016, replacing it with a two-child limit to try to avoid the economic risks from a rapidly aging population, but the high cost of urban living has deterred couples from having more children.
The birth rate was the lowest since 1949, when the statistics bureau began collating the data.
The natural growth rate of China's population, which excludes migration, was only 0.034% for 2021, the lowest since 1960, according to the data.
"The demographic challenge is well known but the speed of population aging is clearly faster than expected," said Zhiwei Zhang, chief economist at Pinpoint Asset management.
"This suggests China’s total population may have reached its peak in 2021. It also indicates China's potential growth is likely slowing faster than expected," Zhang said.
There were 10.62 million births in 2021, the data showed, compared with 12 million in 2020.
The birth rate in 2020 was 8.52 births per 1,000 people.
Reporting by Liangping Gao, Tony Munroe and Ryan Woo; Editing by Christian Schmollinger