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Wed, Feb 14, 2024 9:29amGrey Clock 7 min

China’s baby bust is happening faster than many expected, raising fears of a demographic collapse. And coping with the fallout may now be complicated by miscalculations made more than 40 years ago.

The rapid shift under way today wasn’t projected by the architects of China’s one-child policy—one of the biggest social experiments in history, instituted in 1980. At the time, governments around the world feared overpopulation would hold back economic growth. A Moscow-trained missile scientist led the push for China’s policy, based on tables of calculations that applied mathematical models used to calculate rocket trajectories to population growth.

Four decades later, China is ageing much earlier in its development than other major economies did. The shift to fewer births and more elderly citizens threatens to hold back economic growth. In a generation that grew up without siblings, young women are increasingly reluctant to have children —and there are fewer of them every year. Beijing is at a loss to change the mindset brought about by the policy.

Births in China fell by more than 500,000 last year, according to recent government data, accelerating a population drop that started in 2022 . Officials cited a quickly shrinking number of women of childbearing age—more than three million fewer than a year earlier—and acknowledged “changes in people’s thinking about births, postponement of marriage and childbirth.”

Some researchers argue the government underestimates the problem, and the population began to shrink even earlier.

Following the data release, researchers from Victoria University in Australia and the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences predicted that China will have just 525 million people by the end of the century. That’s down from their previous forecast of 597 million and a precipitous drop from 1.4 billion now.

“Our forecasts for 2022 and 2023 were already low but the real situation has turned out to be worse,” said Xiujian Peng, a senior research fellow at Victoria University who leads the population research in Melbourne.

China’s fertility rate is approaching one birth for every woman , less than half the 2.1 replacement rate that keeps a population stable. In the late 1970s, the fertility rate hovered around 3.

At the time, China was coming out of the chaos of the Cultural Revolution and about to embark on economic reforms. The country’s leader, Deng Xiaoping, and other officials became alarmed when a group of scientists told them that unless they started restricting births, China would have more than four billion mouths to feed in a hundred years.

An essay by some of the scientists published by the official People’s Daily in early 1980 suggested China’s search for a response to overpopulation “points to bringing the fertility rate down to 1…each couple having only one child.”

That fall, China started enforcing the one-child policy nationwide—but the calculations had missed some crucial factors.

Population fears

China wasn’t the only country worried about overpopulation at the time. The rapid rise in the global population in the 1960s and ‘70s prompted fears that humanity would reproduce faster than food production could rise, an idea argued nearly two centuries earlier by economist Thomas Malthus.

Chinese officials were increasingly reviving scientific research after the Cultural Revolution. While social scientists had been persecuted by Mao’s Red Guards, others doing work related to the military had been partly shielded.

The group included Song Jian, a protégé of the father of China’s atomic-bomb program and one of China’s top scientists working on satellites and rockets. Song had studied in Moscow, where he got advanced degrees in a branch of mathematics known as control theory and in military science. Military officials sent him to a launch site for rockets and satellites in the Gobi Desert to escape the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.

Song, who eventually became China’s senior cabinet member heading science and technology, is now 92. He didn’t respond to requests for comment sent to the State Council and the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

In 1975, Song had been part of a Chinese academic delegation visiting the University of Twente in the Netherlands, where he got to know a Dutch mathematician, Geert Jan Olsder. Three years later, the two met a second time, at a conference in Finland.

Olsder, now in his 80s, said he talked about how his research with other mathematicians had been inspired by the warnings about finite global resources and how mathematical models could be applied to birthrates.

Song spoke with the others in fluent English and showed a clear interest in mathematical modelling, Olsder wrote in an email. If the two hadn’t met, he said, he’s sure that some kind of population policy would have started in China, but perhaps a little later. “I feel like a domino stone in a long series of such stones,” he wrote.

Song refined his modelling over the next few years, and with a team of scientists began calculating how different fertility rates could affect China’s population size. In late 1979 he began to present officials with reports based on their modelling. He calculated that, at a constant fertility rate of three babies for every woman, China’s population would hit 4.26 billion by 2080.

With his computer-assisted mathematical models and political connections, Song caught the attention of top leaders. He argued that rapid population growth would prevent China from becoming a rich, modern country, said Susan Greenhalgh, an anthropologist at Harvard University who has written books about the one-child policy.

“He used a frightening narrative of a coming demographic-economic-ecological crisis to persuade people,” she said.

To ward off skepticism, officials said China could switch gears if births dropped too much. “In 30 years, the current problem of especially dreadful population growth may be alleviated and then [we can] adopt different population policies,” the Communist Party said in an open letter in 1980.

Within a little more than a decade, the fertility rate had dipped below the replacement rate. The cohort of young women was still massive, which kept the population growing. But the number of newborn girls was quickly dwindling.


As the decades passed, a growing number of demographers and economists called out the policy as outdated and flawed. China’s fertility rate would have gone down on its own as life expectancies rose and economic conditions improved, they say.

One factor missing from Song’s population math was human behaviour. The government’s sometimes brutal enforcement, including forced abortions and sterilisations, as well as decades-long propaganda about the benefits of having a small family , left a lasting one-child mindset. The modelling also failed to take into account the traditional preference for sons. If couples could only have one child, they would prefer to have a boy.

Young women are now at the core of China’s demographic dilemma. They are increasingly reluctant to have children—and there are fewer of them every year.

Greenhalgh, the Harvard anthropologist, said that the women growing up under the one-child policy were raised in line with Beijing’s goals of a smaller but what it called “higher-quality” population: well-educated, savvy and independent. “These women are not going to accept going back to the family to be housewives,” she said.

Apart from cultural and social changes, Song’s model hadn’t taken into account economic forces, such as the enormous migration flows to cities unleashed by Deng’s reforms, which played a bigger role than anyone had imagined in pushing down fertility rates, researchers have said.

Zuo Xuejin, a retired demographer who is leading the research team at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, sounded alarms about demographic implosion more than a decade ago, saying the conditions that may have warranted birth-restriction measures had all faded away.

“For many years overpopulation was China’s major concern. It was difficult to convince the government and the public that China will have the problem of fast decline and aging of the population,” Zuo wrote in an email.

Song has said he believed it had been a good call. China had successfully defused the bomb that could have led to a “population explosion,” he wrote in a 2010 essay published by the University of Jinan, his alma mater. “Zero growth [in population] is the destiny of modern mankind and an urgent task for contemporary China,” Song wrote. He estimated China’s population wouldn’t start shrinking until after 2035. He was off by more than a decade, with official data showing the drop starting in 2022.

Beijing has said the policy prevented 400 million births, a claim it has often put forth as a kind of Chinese gift to the world, including at the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen. Demographers have disputed the figure, saying China’s fertility rate would have gone down on its own as economic conditions improved.

Demographer scramble

Even when Beijing dropped the one-child policy in 2015, leaders didn’t abolish birth restrictions altogether. Instead, it just pivoted to a two-child policy. Now, Beijing is urging people to have three, trumpeting the need to return to a “birth-friendly culture.”

Entrepreneurs, economists and demographers have tried to convey the idea that China needs more babies .

James Liang , co-founder and chairman of travel service provider Group and a research professor of economics at Peking University, co-founded YuWa Population Research Institute, a private think tank focused on demographic and public policy analysis.

Liang estimated that China needs to devote 5% of its gross domestic product—roughly equivalent to its education spending—on direct subsidies to promote births and lower the costs of raising children in order for the fertility rate to recover to 1.4, the average rate of advanced economies. His company gives its long-term employees an annual cash bonus of 10,000 yuan ($1,406) for each of their children until they are 5 years old.

Demographers are trying to catch up on the rapidly falling births. The United Nations’ population predictions for China, which were based on the country’s 2020 census and assumed a fertility rate of 1.19, are already out of step with reality.

Patrick Gerland, head of the U.N.’s population estimates and projection section, said their computing tries to capture long-term trends and isn’t made for rapid changes. He agrees with other researchers that put China’s fertility rate closer to 1.0.

“In the case of a country like China where the fertility from one year to the next year has been changing so fast, we’ll have smaller population [projections] than what we had expected two years ago,” he said. The U.N. plans to update its forecasts in July.

Yi Fuxian, a senior scientist in obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a critic of China’s birth restrictions, has long argued the situation is even worse than official data suggests. Yi believes China’s population actually started shrinking years ago, based on birth estimates pieced together from other available data, such as school enrolment and the number of vaccines for newborns.

“All of China’s population policies for decades have been based on erroneous projections,” Yi said. “China’s demographic crisis is beyond the imagination of Chinese officials and the international community.”

Once a generation of young people has made up their minds, it’s hard to change them, said Cai Yong, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

It’s possible fertility rates could now increase with official messages and policies promoting bigger families to a newer generation, said Cai, but “if it’s going to happen, it’s not going to happen in the short term.”


Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

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AACCI’s Strategic Vision for Enhancing Australia-Arab Trade Relations

The Australian Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI) is fostering robust trade relations between Australia and Arab countries.

Mon, May 20, 2024 5 min

In an era where global trade and international relationships are more crucial than ever, the Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI) serves as a bridge, for cooperation and growth between Australia and the Arab nations. Led by its Chairman, Mr. Mohamed Hage, the AACCI has taken on projects aimed at strengthening relationships and fostering development across borders.

This exclusive interview explores the initiatives implemented by the AACCI to expand its presence and influence in the region including the significant establishment of a new operational hub in Dubai. We also delve into how the Chamber embraces education through training and research, its participation in major international exhibitions, and its active support for both large corporations and small businesses.

Looking towards tomorrow, Mr. Mohamed shares his vision for broadening AACCI’s reach emphasizing the importance of the on-ground operations and cultural understanding in building business connections.

-Could you elaborate on the Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry, including its objectives and main areas of focus?

The Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce & Industry (AACCI) plays a fundamental role, in promoting business partnerships and trade between Australia and the 22 Arab countries. As a member of the Union of Arab Chambers affiliated with the Arab League, AACCI focuses on strengthening trade and investment ties, across these countries.

To nurture these connections effectively AACCI has outlined four objectives: facilitating trade and investment activities, certifying documents, educating stakeholders, and offering marketing assistance.

Our initiatives are designed not only to empower trade and investment endeavors but to also ensure engagement with specific sectors that drive these activities. With an understanding of the characteristics, strengths and preferences of each country, AACCI prides itself on its specialized knowledge customized to suit the distinct business environments of these nations.

– As the AACCI approaches its 50th anniversary, what have been some of the key milestones and achievements?

I believe one of AACCI’s accomplishments is the opportunities it has opened up for numerous Australian companies to access markets, in the region. Moreover, the strong bilateral trade relationship that has developed between Australia and the 22 Arab nations over the five decades has led to trade transactions amounting to billions of dollars.

This extensive trade covers industries such as food and beverages, luxury hotels and many more services. Each successive generation, within AACCI has built upon the foundation laid by its predecessors enriching their knowledge base and expanding their range of services.

– How does the AACCI leverage its diverse leadership team to enhance trade and investment opportunities between Australia and the Arab region?

Since taking on the role of chairman, my main focus has been on expanding our presence in the region. This led to the idea of opening an office in Dubai, which symbolizes our dedication to deepening our engagement in that area. We have successfully secured the license to open our first office in Dubai after 50 years, which will serve as a gateway to the GCC and North Africa.

I strongly believe that building two-way trade and investment ties requires more than a degree of business connectivity; it demands having local representatives present in each region. With trends emphasizing strategies the value of face-to-face engagements cannot be overstated.

Setting up offices in the region is essential for the Chamber to truly serve as a link and support system for business activities. Ultimately this expansion will bring benefits to our members and partners by providing them with access, to dynamic markets and diverse prospects.

– Can you discuss the significance of AACCI’s role in cultural and business exchanges between the two regions?

The importance of understanding cultures in our operations cannot be overstated. To address this, we have included a training platform within the Chamber to strengthen our cultural awareness initiatives. This new program offers our members access to modules on our website focusing on global business practices.

Furthermore, we have set up a Center of Excellence specifically dedicated to researching areas like food security and cultural awareness. These research endeavors are essential for promoting knowledge between the two regions.

By combining the resources of the Center of Excellence, our training resources, and the forthcoming local office in Dubai, we’re providing cultural awareness not only in the region but also in Australia. This approach ensures that our members are well equipped and knowledgeable boosting their effectiveness and involvement, in markets.

– What is the objective of your on-ground presence at conferences and events?

Participating in conferences and on ground events is very important for increasing awareness in industries like construction where knowledge of opportunities in the Arab world may not be widespread. When we see projects such as NEOM or notice the construction boom happening in the region it becomes important for organizations like the Chamber of Commerce to highlight these prospects. By taking part in large scale expos such as the Sydney Build Expo we position ourselves at the forefront of these advancements.

Our presence at these events enables interaction giving entrepreneurs a chance to visit our booth engage in discussions and learn more about the region in an approachable and personalized manner. This plays a role in simplifying the process and making opportunities concrete.

– With such a diverse membership base, how does AACCI tailor its services to meet the needs of both large corporations and small startups?

When it comes to discussing business it’s important to grasp how influence and vision come into play. Businesses looking to expand are often motivated by a desire to achieve something whether they are big companies or small enterprises. Small businesses typically aim to raise their brands profile while larger corporations seek recognition and market dominance.

Standing out in this area can be tough mainly because the key driving force is the passion to showcase the brand and products on a platform. This determination serves as a motivator for entrepreneurs.

At the Chamber we make a point of recognizing the needs of both big and small players by understanding each members individual situation. We ensure that every member is well informed about the opportunities and risks that come with expanding. For small businesses, this means being aware of the financial demands, while large businesses are advised on the necessity of both financial and emotional resilience.

– How does AACCI plan to expand or evolve its services in the coming years to further support its members?

The importance of having resources on the ground cannot be emphasized enough. Having local staff is key to establishing connections with the communities we serve. Without a presence in the area staying updated on events and activities becomes quite challenging.

This is why, as I’ve mentioned before, we have established an office in Dubai, staffed with personnel dedicated to supporting our members. This local office will help us effectively bridge the gap between Australia and the Arab world. And our members will benefit from insights and assistance from someone who truly knows the landscape.

In Australia we have equipped offices throughout the country staffed by individuals who play a significant role in our operations. This strong domestic network complements our efforts ensuring that we provide support to our members both locally and globally. This strategic approach is crucial, for nurturing business relationships and fostering continental understanding.



Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

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