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For First Time Since Great Leap Forward, China Deaths Outpace Births

The world’s most populous country has reached a pivotal moment: China’s population has begun to shrink, after a steady, yearslong decline in its birthrate that experts say is irreversible.

The government said on Tuesday that 9.56 million people were born in China last year, while 10.41 million people died. It was the first time deaths had outnumbered births in China since the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong’s failed economic experiment that led to widespread famine and death in the 1960s.

Chinese officials have tried for years to slow down the arrival of this moment, loosening a one-child policy and offering incentives to encourage families to have children. None of those policies worked. Now, facing a population decline, coupled with a long-running rise in life expectancy, the country is being thrust into a demographic crisis that will have consequences not just for China and its economy but for the world.

Indeed, data released on Tuesday showed that the Chinese economy last year had one of its worst performances since 1976, the year Mao died.

Over the last four decades, China emerged as an economic powerhouse and the world’s factory floor. The country’s evolution from widespread poverty to the world’s second-largest economy led to an increase in life expectancy that contributed to the current population decline — more people were living longer while fewer babies were being born.

That trend has hastened another worrying event: the day when China will not have enough people of working age to fuel its growth.

“In the long run, we are going to see a China the world has never seen,” said Wang Feng, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Irvine who specializes in China’s demographics. “It will no longer be the young, vibrant, growing population. We will start to appreciate China, in terms of its population, as an old and shrinking population.”

Government handouts like cash for babies and tax cuts, have failed to change the underlying fact that many young Chinese people simply do not want children.

Read entire article at New York Times