BEIJING, China: On Monday, statistics showed Mainland China's birth rate has dropped to a record low of 7.52 births per 1,000 people in 2021, compared with 8.52 births per 1,000 in 2020.
The new figures continue a downward trend that forced the government to allow couples to have up to three children per year.
To avoid the economic risks from a rapidly aging population, in 2016 China scrapped its one-child policy and replaced it with a two-child limit, but the high cost of urban living has deterred couples from having more children.
The 2021 rate, the lowest since 1949 when the National Statistics Bureau began keeping such data, will further pressure officials to encourage couples to have more children.
The statistics also showed that there were 10.62 million births in 2021, compared with 12 million in 2020.
In 2021, the natural growth rate of China's population, excluding migration, was only 0.034 percent, the lowest since 1960, according to data.
"The demographic challenge is well known, but the speed of population aging is clearly faster than expected," said Zhiwei Zhang of Pinpoint Asset Management, as quoted by Reuters.
"This suggests China's total population may have reached its peak in 2021. It also indicates China's potential growth is likely slowing faster than expected," Zhang added.
China has also adopted policies aimed at easing the financial burdens of raising children, such as banning the lucrative for-profit after-school tuition.
China's declining number of working-age people will add pressure on its ability to pay and care for an increasingly elderly population.
Huang Wenzheng, a demography expert with the Beijing-based Center for China and Globalization, said birth numbers are likely to fluctuate in the 10 million range before declining further in the absence of more policy changes, adding, "But policies will provide greater support for the birth rate in the longer run," according to Reuters.
"Career advancements could be tied to whether you have children or not, economic incentives, or even direct cash payouts by society to meet the cost of raising a family," Huang added.