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Registered Births In China Tumbled 15% In 2020 - 2 19 2021 8 31 09 AM

From 2019 to 2020, the number of registered newborns in China fell by 15%. The steep drop underscores the demographic headwinds facing the country, which has long struggled with a long-term birthrate decline. (Financial Times)

NH: This is astonishing. We get our first look at the overall impact of the pandemic on births in China, and what we see is 10.04 million newborn babies registered in China in 2020, according to the Ministry of Public Security. That’s down 14.8% from 11.79 million in 2019.

Demographers expected births to decline, as they have for the previous three years in a row. (See “China’s Birthrate: Lowest in 70 Years.”) And most expected the decline to accelerate under the impact of China's rigorous pandemic shutdowns.

But as one researcher put it in the Financial Times, no one expected it to decline this much. A 15% drop in one year is unprecedented. To give some perspective, from 2018 to 2019, the number of births fell 4%. The previous record decline occurred in 2018, when the number of births fell 11.6% from 2017.

The birth dearth hit some provinces and cities especially hard. Guangzhou, one of the largest cities in China, reported a 17% decline. Hefei, the capital and largest city of Anhui Province, saw a 23% decline. In Wenzhou, a major commercial hub, births fell 19%. Some smaller towns showed YoY declines of as much as 30%. 

An important caveat: The number of registered newborns isn’t the same as the actual number of births.

The number of babies registered with the government is usually lower than the final tally, because some parents don’t register their children immediately. In 2019, there were 11.79 million babies registered and 14.65 million children born.

China will release the official birthrate and birth statistics for 2020 in April through its National Bureau of Statistics.

Even though these numbers aren’t “official,” they’re still a sobering glimpse at China’s accelerating demographic crisis. Covid-19 has undoubtedly exaggerated the decline, but remember, the earliest pandemic-era babies wouldn’t have started being born until nearly the end of the year, in November or December. For most of 2020, the pandemic was not a factor affecting how many babies were born.

Unfortunately, the monthly data behind these stats aren’t available, so it’s not clear whether the drop reflects an extreme decline at the end of the year or was spread out over 2020. We’ll see what the next round of data shows in April.

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Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.

A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.

Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."

Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.

Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.

Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.