China has a serious problem.

Baby Bust

China experienced a significant drop in babies being born last year, with just 7.88 million children in 2023 compared to 9.56 million babies in 2022. It's a precipitous decline that speaks to changing societal norms and economic pressures — not to mention a fight against overpopulation that vastly overshot its goals — in the sprawling country of 1.4 billion people.

Radio Free Asia reports that Chinese state media accidentally released the figures in the waning days of December and then quickly had the article with the numbers deleted, the implication being that the figures are a delicate issue amidst a dark economic cloud hovering over the country, famous for its massive transformation from a place filled with rural villages to a major world economic and political player.

By the late 1970s, in fact, China's population was growing so fast that its ruling Communist Party instituted a policy that virtually all families could only have one child. Even after reversing that policy in 2016, though, the country's population is now on the opposite trajectory, and leadership there is dealing with a faltering economy and high unemployment rates among people of marriageable age — the exact kind of factors that put dampers on babymaking anywhere.

Spendy Babies

China isn't the only country with a rapidly aging population and falling birthrate. Its longtime rival Japan has been experiencing its own population drop for years. Add other places like Taiwan, Russia, Europe, and America, and you've got the makings of a strange new global trend.

Why are people in developed countries having fewer children despite governmental intervention? Many would-be parents are saying babies are too expensive and that they have little faith in the world economy, which has experienced multiple shocks over the last 20 years. Plus, many argue, there are better things to do instead of procreating.

"People, especially women, have more lucrative things to do," University of Maryland sociology professor  Philip Cohen told Vox last year.

Amidst this depressing news, the countries with the highest birth rates are in Africa, with Niger leading the pack at 6.73 children per woman. This youth boom in Africa, long seen as an economic backwater, may transform the world as all those kids bring a burst of higher education, entrepreneurship, and growing cultural importance, exemplified by the popularity of Afro-Beats.

All that rapid change in demographics is even making some economic analysts predict that Africa will be the new China.

More on population: Japan's Population is Plummeting at an Astonishing Rate

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