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China: Several hospitals stop newborn delivery services amid record drop in birth rate

As China's population fell due to a record low birth rate and COVID-related restrictions, industry experts have warned of an "obstetric winter" due to low demand. According to latest data, the birth rate in 2023 fell to a record low of 6.39 births per 1,000 people from last year.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Beijing Published on: March 19, 2024 14:42 IST
China, newborn delivery services, birth rate
Image Source : PIXABAY Representational Image

Beijing: In an alarming development, several hospitals in China have stopped offering newborn delivery services this year due to a record drop in new births, as industry experts warned of an "obstetric winter" due to declining demand, according to local media reports. In the last two months, hospitals in several provinces, including in eastern Zhejiang and southern Jiangxi, announced that they will close their obstetric departments.

The Fifth People's Hospital of Ganzhou City in Jiangxi said on its official WeChat account that obstetric services would be suspended from March 11. Additionally, Zhejiang's Jiangshan Hospital of Traditional Medicine announced on its WeChat page that its obstetrics business would stop from February 1. These concerns are rising as Chinese policymakers grapple with how to boost young couples' desire to have children as authorities face a growing demographic headache of a rapidly aging society.

China's population fell for a second consecutive year in 2023 as a result of a record low birth rate and a wave of COVID-19 deaths after the end of stringent lockdown measures, sparking concerns about long-term effects on the growth potential of the world's second-largest economy. The National Bureau of Statistics said the total population of China dropped by 2.75 million, or 0.2 per cent, to 1.409 billion last year.

The most recent available data from China's National Health Commission showed the number of maternity hospitals dropped to 793 in 2021 from 807 in 2020. Local reports said the plummeting number of newborns meant that it was not possible for many hospitals to keep operating their departments overseeing the delivery of newborns.

Why are Chinese couples not having babies?

Many women in China are opting to remain childless due to high childcare and education costs, an unwillingness to marry, or putting their careers on hold in a traditional society where they are still seen as the main caregivers and where gender discrimination remains rife. 

These trends continue despite authorities rolling out incentives and measures to boost the birth rate, including expanding maternity leave, financial and tax benefits for having children and housing subsidies. The population is aging steadily, which could slow economic growth over time and challenge the nation's ability to provide for a larger elderly population with fewer workers. About 9 million babies were born in China last year, half of those born in 2016.

The total number of deaths rose in 2023 by 6.6 per cent to 11.1 million, as the death rate reached the highest level since 1974 during the Cultural Revolution. Additionally, new births fell 5.7 per cent to 9.02 million and the birth rate in China slumped to a record low of 6.39 births per 1,000 people, down from 6.77 births in 2022.

oreover, China is one of the world's most expensive places to bring up a child relative to its gross domestic product per capita. More babies are being born in hospitals across China in the Year of the Dragon, which began on February 10, but demographers say any uptick from a "dragon baby" boom is likely to be short-lived.

New problems after one-child policy

China had been experiencing a decline in births as a result of the one-child policy implemented from 1980 to 2015 during rapid urbanisation at that time. After ending the contentious policy in 2016, China is now facing the opposite problem, as people moving to cities are opting to not have children due to rising costs.

More and more Chinese are opting to marry later and even those that do often have only one child cause of the high cost of educating children in the highly competitive academic environment. The country's retirement-age population is expected to increase to more than 400 million by 2035 - more than the entire population of the US.

Adding to the burden is the record-high youth unemployment rate in 2023, a sharp decline in wages for white-collar workers and a full-blown real estate sector that houses two-thirds of household wealth. These factors are leading to concerns that China's growth prospects are diminishing due to fewer workers and consumers.

India surpassed China as the world's most populous country in April last year, fuelling debates on the merits of relocating China-based supply chains to other markets owing to rising geopolitical tensions between Beijing and Washington. UN experts have predicted that China's population will, in the long-term, shrink by 109 million by 2050, more than triple the decline of the previous forecast in 2019.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | China's population falls for second consecutive year amid record low birth rate, COVID-19 deaths


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