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Economy

Chinese births hit lowest level in 58 years

Government says population topped 1.4bn in 2019 but social security risks loom

The Chinese government has abolished its long-standing one-child policy and now allows two children per couple. 

BEIJING -- The population of mainland China surpassed 1.4 billion in 2019, but the country also recorded its fewest births in 58 years, government data released on Friday shows.

The number of births came to 14.65 million, down by 580,000 and marking the third straight annual decline. The figure is the lowest since 1961, when the Great Leap Forward policy resulted in millions of people starving to death.

The total population reached 1,400,050,000 in 2019 -- excluding Hong Kong, Macao and overseas Chinese -- as births still exceeded deaths. However, the declining birthrate and aging populace will place a greater burden on the nation's finances and social security benefits, such as health care and pensions.

Aware of that risk, the government abolished the one-child policy that had been in place since 1979, and adopted a new policy in 2016 of allowing Chinese couples to have two children. Yet, the low birthrate and aging all but negated the impact of the two-child policy last year.

The birthrate, calculated by dividing the number of births by the whole population, was 1.048% -- the lowest since Communist China was founded in 1949. The rate is likely to fall faster as the number of young women of childbearing age is expected to drop sharply.

Meanwhile, the number of people over age 65 reached 12.6% of the total population at the end of 2019, up 0.7 of a percentage point from the previous year as longevity increases.

Each province in China has its own pension program, but some regions have already run out of pension reserves.

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