A replacement birthrate is 2.1 children per woman. China slipped below that in the 1990s. Birthrates in Beijing and Shanghai are now the lowest in the world. China’s labor force and overall population peaked in the 2010s, heralding the fastest increases in labor costs in the world. Ever. The average Chinese citizen aged past the average American citizen sometime around 2018. Recent analysis by the South China Morning Post of data from the Chinese census authority suggests China’s population will be half the size in 2050 compared to today.
It’s (far) worse than it sounds. Nearly all of China’s 600 million-strong population growth since 1970 isn’t from more births, but from longer lifespans and fewer deaths. Any disruptions in the flows of foods and fuels that enable modernity will earn the Chinese another “world’s best” title; Not only is China the fastest-aging population in human history, soon it will also be the fastest-collapsing.
Even that assumes nothing else goes even a little bit wrong.
China also imports the vast majority of its energy as well as the inputs used to grow its food. China depends on trade to keep its population not simply wealthy and healthy, but alive. Remove international links, and Chinese mortality levels will rise even as baked-in demographic trends mean birthrates will continue to fall.
What might we see break first?