China's birth rate plummeted to a record low of 7.52 per thousand last year, official data showed on Monday, as analysts warn that faster-than-expected ageing could deepen economic growth concerns.
According to the country's National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the birth rate in China has fallen to a 60-year low, with only 10.6 million babies born in 2021, just marginally more than the average mortality rate.
Changes to the strict "one-child policy" since 2016 have failed to result in a hoped-for baby boom, as changing mindsets and soaring costs of property make many young couples reluctant to have more than one child.
NBS spokesperson Ning Jizhe also commented on the economic pressures China is facing after its pandemic-defying GDP growth slowed in the final months of 2021, in a worrying signal for the global economy as Beijing's central bank cut a key interest rate.
"We must be aware that the external environment is more complicated and uncertain, and the domestic economy is under the triple pressures of demand contraction, supply shock, and weakening expectations," Jizhe said Monday.
China's economy, a key driver of global growth, expanded 8.1% in 2021 on its strong virus recovery, the NBS data showed.
However, much of that growth came in the first half of the year, with the economy shaken by a series of shocks towards the end of 2021.
China has been grappling with recent virus outbreaks, a cascading property market slump, and a series of far-reaching regulatory crackdowns on some sectors.
Monday's figures showed growth in the fourth quarter was the slowest in over a year, at 4%, down from 4.9% in the third quarter.
China's central bank also cut the rate on its one-year policy loans to 2.85% — the first drop since early 2020 at the height of the pandemic and a clear signal that the year's outlook remains uncertain.