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Shandong is having a baby bust

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While official data on China’s birth rate last year is yet to be released, multiple signs indicate that the country’s demographic time bomb is ticking louder than ever. Today, the 21th Century Business Herald reports (in Chinese) that the birth rate in Shandong Province, which is widely viewed as a reliable reflection of the nation’s fertility trend, might have seen a remarkable drop in 2018.

The estimate is based on the number of births recently published by several municipal governments in Shandong. For example, according to official numbers released by the census bureau in Qingdao, the number of newborns in the city last year was around 90,000, down from 115,700 in 2017. The city’s birth rate in 2018 dropped around 20 percent compared with the previous year’s. Meanwhile, Qingdao also experienced a dip in the number of families who had a second child in 2018, which was down by almost 30 percent last year. In addition, cities like Yantai, Dezhou, and Liaocheng reported similar declines in birth rates.

The general trend has led a number of researchers to believe that fertility rates in Shandong declined significantly last year. “We are almost certain about the drop,” Cuī Shùyì 崔树义, director of the Shandong Academy of Social Sciences, told the newspaper. “The fall is very likely to be extraordinary given the numbers submitted by the local government so far.”

Shandong is one of the most populous regions in China, and families in Shandong have a reputation for their obsession with having babies. When China relaxed its population control policies in 2016, many demographers believed that Shandong was most likely to see a steep rise in birth rates in the era after the one-child policy was canceled.

As projected, Shandong experienced a baby boom in 2017. It’s reported that in the five months after the new family planning regulations were implemented, Shandong received over 223,000 applications for having a second child, accounting for almost a quarter of the overall applications nationwide. But Cui said that the phenomenon didn’t last long due to a combination of factors such as an ongoing trend of urbanization, a spike in home prices, and the fact that young women in Shandong today are more educated than those of the previous generation.

Last week, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) released a report predicting that China’s birth rates might have taken a sharp downturn in 2018 and that the country will face negative population growth as soon as 2027. Now, as more provincial data on birth rates is coming in, all eyes are on the National Health and Family Planning Commission, which is due to release official numbers later this month.

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Jiayun Feng

Jiayun was born in Shanghai, where she spent her first 20 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Fudan University. Interested in writing for a global audience, she attended the NYU Graduate School of Journalism for its Global & Joint Program Studies, which allowed her to pursue a journalism career along with her interest in international relations. She has previously interned for Sixth Tone and Shanghai Daily.

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