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China’s population may already be shrinking, with data so far this year showing a continued drop in the number of births, an independent Chinese demographer has predicted.

There will be between 9.5 million to 10.5 million newborn babies this year, independent demographer He Yafu wrote on his personal social media account Thursday. “If the number of newborns is near the lower limit of the prediction, that means the population will register negative growth,” as there’s been an average of about 10 million deaths a year recently, He wrote.

China’s government has effectively done away with restrictions on the number of children a couple can have and has promised to boost support for families, including making it cheaper to raise a child. Even so, the number of newborns may decline again this year from 12 million in 2020, Yu Xuejun, deputy head of the National Health Commission, said in July.

He said his forecast is based on analyzing recent data published by various local governments, most of which point to a sharp drop.

For instance, in Dezhou city in populous Shandong province, the number of newborns declined by 17.9% in the first nine months compared with the same period last year. His calculations — based on statistics of hearing screening for newborns — also show similar drops in central Henan province in the first half of the year.

Separately, a local newspaper in Anhui province estimated in September that births there would drop 17.8% this year, the fourth straight year of double-digit declines. In Taizhou city in eastern Jiangsu province, there were likely 43.4% fewer newborns in the first eight months of this year compared with last year, He calculated based on statistics from the local authorities.

He is not the only one who has come up with such dire predictions. In August, analysts at Jefferies Financial Group Inc., wrote that the number of newborns in 2021 might drop to the lowest level since at least 1950.

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