BEIJING - China could see its number of births slide below 10 million annually in the next five years if the government does not quickly abolish its policy of limiting families to two children, an expert was quoted in domestic media as saying.
China's total population may also fall in a few years, Dong Yuzheng, director at the Guangdong Academy of Population Development, told Yicai, a Chinese financial news outlet.
The number of babies born in China fell by 580,000 to 14.65 million in 2019 and the birth rate of 10.48 per thousand was the lowest since 1949 when present methods of collating data began, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
It has yet to disclose a figure for last year, although it typically releases such data at the end of February.
The country's falling birth rate and its rapidly greying society is expected to test its ability to pay and care for its elderly.
Although China abolished its decades-long one-child policy in 2016, couples have been discouraged from having larger families by the rising costs of healthcare, education and housing. Economic uncertainties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have further weighed on decisions to have children.
Separate data from the Ministry of Public Security shows the number of births last year plunged 15% to 10.035 million births from 11.79 million in 2019.
The ministry may not be counting some children in rural areas, said Liu Kaiming, a labour expert in the southern city of Shenzhen, adding that he expects the number of newborns in 2020 to be between 10 million and 14 million.
"(The number of births) may fall below 10 million next year," Liu said.
China has also yet to announce the results of a once-a-decade census. It previously said the results would be released in early April.
(Reporting by Liangping Gao and Ryan Woo; Editing by Edwina Gibbs) ((Ryan.Woo@thomsonreuters.com;))