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A Third of China’s Provinces Saw More Deaths Than Births in 2021, Exacerbating Demographic Crisis

Alina Wang
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights, politics, tech, and society.
Published: November 23, 2022
Chinese women training to be qualified nannies, known in China as “ayis,” learn techniques with plastic babies at the Ayi University on in Beijing, China on October 20, 2016. (Image: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Though the global population count just surpassed 8 billion people, China has been plagued with a dwindling birth rate for the past few years. 

In 2021, the world’s most populous country grew by just 480,000 to 1.4126 billion — with demographers warning that a “national decline appears inevitable” as birth rates continue falling, and people live longer.


According to China’s Statistical Yearbook, the declining birth rate carries severe implications for its national economy. Reeling from prolonged “zero-COVID” lockdowns that have halted industrial output and shuttered businesses, China has also struggled with crises in its banking and real estate sectors. 

Of the country’s 31 provincial-level jurisdictions, 13 reported more deaths than births in 2021. The provinces included the key commercial and financial hubs of Shanghai, Jiangsu and Tianjin; the farming central provinces of Sichuan, Chongqing, Hunan and Hubei; Hebei, Shanxi and the northwestern autonomous region of Inner Mongolia; as well as the northeastern rust-belt provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang.

population china children
Children play at a kindergarten in Yantai in China’s eastern Shandong Province on May 31, 2021. The Communist Party’s liberalization of its One-Child Policy to a 3-Child Policy shows the hard-to-reverse damage from decades of autocratic micromanagement in citizens’ family affairs. (Image: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

In the northern province of Heilongjiang, there were 3.59 births per 1,000 people last year — the lowest in any jurisdiction — with 8.7 deaths per 1,000 people accounting for one of the highest mortality rates in the country.

Official data also showed that China’s population grew by just 480,000 to 1.4126 billion last year — marking the smallest population increase since 1962 — a sharp decline from the 2.04 million increase in 2020.

The drops mark the lowest numbers of new births since modern record-keeping began in 1949. For at least six of the jurisdictions, the declines served to drag China’s national birth rate down to 7.52 per 1,000 people in 2021.

A growing trend

According to Darrell Bricker, co-author of “Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline,” the world’s population is expected to reach between eight and nine billion by the end of the century; with a population boost taking place in 2050. 

However, Bricker, who is also CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs and a fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), said he believes China’s dwindling birth rate hasn’t peaked yet and can be largely attributed to two factors: rising costs of living in urban cities, and younger couples opting for a childless lifestyle in order to maximize their incomes and not be bogged down by familial responsibilities. 

Nurses and parents massage newborn babies at Xining Children Hospital on May 17, 2006 in Xining of Qinghai Province, China. Chinese population experts are predicting a mini-baby boom before 2010 as a result of the country’s family planning laws. (Image: China Photos via Getty Images)

“The reason that it’s not going to increase more than that is because … China is now recording its lowest birth rate in history. India has just dropped below replacement rate for its birth rate. That’s 36 percent of the entire global population that are now not replacing or not at replacement level birth rates,” Bricker said. 

Even after China’s stringent one-child policy was lifted in 2016, many couples are choosing not to start families. Last year, Chinese mothers gave birth to just 10.62 million babies — an 11.5 percent decline from 2020. 


When the one-child policy was implemented by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1979, for over three decades, men and women were forced to undergo sterilization in an effort to control the country’s booming population. 

The policy was so fiercely upheld that many women were forced to have late-term abortions if they were found to be “illegally” pregnant, and couples who broke the policy were subjected to hefty fines or were forced to give their children away. Chinese authorities boasted that they prevented approximately 400 million births. 

In October 2015, the one-child policy was promulgated to encourage couples to have more children; with the CCP rolling out the slogan: “All families should have two children.” The two-child policy was then further broadened in May 2021 to allow three children per couple.