The world’s most populous country has reached a pivotal moment: China’s population has begun to shrink, after a steady, yearslong decline in its birthrate that experts say will be irreversible.

The government said Tuesday that 9.56 million people were born in China in 2022, while 10.41 million people died. It was the first time deaths had outnumbered births in China since the early 1960s, when the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong’s failed economic experiment, led to widespread famine and death.

Births were down from 10.6 million in 2021, the sixth consecutive year that the number had fallen. That decline, coupled with a long-running rise in life expectancy, is thrusting China into a demographic crisis that will have consequences in this century, not just for China and its economy but for the world, experts said.