China hopes the year of the dragon will reverse-at least temporarily-the country’s population decline.
This “minor baby boom” will be brought about by the dragon’s high status in the Chinese zodiac, improved government support to encourage larger families, and the post-pandemic recovery, the state-backed Global Times wrote on Saturday, citing a Nankai University demographer.
China faces the twin challenges of a greying workforce and a falling birth rate as it struggles to revitalize a slowing economy. In 2022, the country’s population shrank for the first time since Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward era, which ushered in rampant famine in the 1960s. Last year’s 2.08 million-person drop was twice that of 2022, despite government efforts to incentivize having newborns.
Yuan Xin, a professor at the Tianjin University’s Institute of Population and Development, cited 2012-the previous dragon year-as a hopeful sign. That year, China enjoyed a modest bump of 0.22 births per 1,000 women.
Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and the ethnic Chinese demographic in Singapore-all populations that observe the 12-zodiac lunar calendar-also posted small increases, University of Wisconsin-Madison demographer Fuxian Yi previously told Newsweek, citing China’s annual census data.
However, in the dragon year before that, 2000, China’s fertility rate was 0.23 births per 1,000, fewer than 1999’s year of the rabbit and 0.17 fewer than 2001’s year of the snake.
Despite the auspiciousness associated with the mythical beast, since the mid-1990s “the Chinese zodiac had little effect on births in China until at least 2010,” Yi said.
Marriages in China are “strongly and linearly positively correlated with births the following year,” Yi said. The number of weddings rose 4.5 percent in the first three quarters of last year after Beijing abandoned its strict yearslong zero-COVID policies.
If the birth rate does track upward, Yi predicted it will be due to the end of pandemic-era measures rather than the zodiac.
The National Bureau of Statistics in China didn’t immediately return Newsweek‘s written request for comment.
As in neighboring South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, the diminishing number of births has raised concerns about future productivity.
In addition, by 2050 those 60 or older are forecast to comprise as much as 40 percent of China’s population. This threatens to further strain the country’s thin social safety net without major reforms.
In recent years, Beijing has introduced a variety of policies to encourage new families.
The central government replaced its decades-old one-child policy with a two-child one in 2016, and this was supplanted by a three-child policy in 2021. Meanwhile, city and provincial governments have offered modest cash subsidies to parents with newborns.
A study published last year in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found only 37 percent of Chinese women in urban areas intended to have up to two children. However, just 29 percent said the same in increasingly expensive first-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.
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This story was originally published February 12, 2024, 5:26 AM.