China sees fewest births since 1961; number of babies down 2 million

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BEIJING — Births in China dropped to the lowest level in almost 60 years in 2018, signaling the country’s looser two-child policy has done little to reverse its slowing birthrate, and worsening the outlook for growth in the world’s second-largest economy.

The number of babies born last year fell by some 2 million from 2017, to 15.23 million, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Monday. Demographer He Yafu said it was the least since 1961 and the third-lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Signs of a steep drop in birth numbers had already emerged, as China’s major cities disclosed their birth figures for 2018. Wenzhou, a manufacturing hub and wealthy coastal city, saw its birth number drop by 15.7 percent, the lowest in 10 years.

A top Chinese research institution projected the population could start shrinking as soon as 2027 — three years earlier than expected — if the birth rate held steady at 1.6 children per woman. The population — at 1.39 billion in 2017, and the world’s largest — could fall to 1.172 billion by 2065, it said.

In 2016, China eased its family-planning policies to allow parents to have as many as two children, instead of one. The nation’s parliament struck “family planning” policies from the latest draft of a sweeping civil code slated for adoption in 2020, the clearest signal yet that the leadership is moving to end limits on the number of children families can have.

The country’s infamous “one-child” policy left China with a worker shortage and an aging population comprised of some 30 million fewer women than men.

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