One of China's most populous provinces saying its birth rate has plunged to a more than four-decade low, policy advisers are warning against the potential pitfalls of not doing enough to encourage couples to have a first child.
Henan province, the country's third-most-populous administrative region, with 99.36 million people, has reported that its number of newborns fell to 920,000 last year - a 23.3 per cent decline from 2019 - as the birth rate dropped to 9.24 births per 1,000 people. The birth rate and total births were at their lowest points on record.
The official regional readings offer fresh insight into the dwindling population growth and increasingly ageing society where births fell by 18 per cent in 2020 to just 12 million, marking a near six-decade low.
Experts have warned that a demographic turning point may be just around the corner in the world's most populous nation, and some say it threatens to erode the foundation of China's booming economic growth over the past 40 years while heaping pressure on Beijing's inward-facing consumption strategy, known as dual circulation.
China has already taken steps to curb the trend, such as by allowing couples to have a third child and by trying to reduce abortions for "non-medical" purposes. Dozens of provincial and municipal authorities have also introduced their own initiatives to raise fertility. These include giving parents more days off work, or even financial support, for having a second or third child. But such moves have been met with scepticism.
China currently has about 40 million children under three years old - a sharp decline from the official figure of more than 47 million that was released in late 2020.