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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

China released its census report on Tuesday, showing that the number of births in the country last year dropped 18% from 2019. And China isn't alone — populations have been stagnating globally for decades, including in the U.S.

Why it matters: China has long relied on its large population — the biggest in the world — as a core engine for economic growth. The way that it, and officials across the globe, deal with changing demographics will lead to shifts in the economy and geopolitics.

State of play: China's falling birth rate is the direct effect of its 30-year one-child policy.

  • The country is now reversing course aggressively, with officials calling for incentives to encourage births.
  • In the U.S., the rising cost of healthcare, education and housing, coupled with a lack of government and corporate support for families, make it difficult to reverse the trend.

What they're saying: Low birth rates impact labor supply and consumer demands, can reduce entrepreneurship and innovation and lead to monetary policy changes, according to demographer Lyman Stone.

  • Older people consume more services, causing economies like the U.S. to shift away from manufacturing, he says.
  • When younger populations shrink, incumbent companies may face less competition from new entrepreneurs. 
  • Older populations also have higher savings and less desire for new investments, reducing interest rates.

Case in point: Greece, which has one of the fastest-aging populations in the world, dipped into negative interest rates in 2019.

By the numbers: China reported 12 million births in 2020, compared with 14.7 million in 2019. Its total population now stands at 1.41 billion.

  • People 60 and older make up 18.7% of the population, up from 13.3% in 2010.
  • The working-age population (15-59) is now 63.4% of the total, down from 70% in 2010.
  • The country has already had to boost its pension pools, and officials are slowly increasing the retirement age to limit the impact on its workforce.

What to watch: Immigration debates will heat up as economies weigh the impact of moving workers across borders to increase labor forces.

Go deeper

Census reveals a more diverse, urbanized America

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The U.S. is more diverse, more urbanized and growing slower overall than in past decades, according to data from the 2020 census released on Thursday.

Why it matters: The decennial census provides a snapshot of the ever-changing demographics of the U.S. — and sets up the partisan fight over how states will redistribute electoral power for the next decade through redistricting.

Native American population jumps to largest size in modern history

Zuni Pueblo women march 98th Gallup Inter-tribal Indian Ceremonial in Gallup, N.M. Photo: Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The number of people who identify as Native American or Alaska Native alone grew by 27.1% to 3.7 million people over the last decade, according to the U.S. Census.

Why it matter: The spike in the number of people who solely identify as Native American or Alaska Native mirrors the steady rise of the population since 1890, when Indigenous people were nearly wiped out in the U.S.

Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to Parkland school shooting

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz at the defense table during jury selection at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Oct. 6, 2021. Photo: Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Nikolas Cruz on Wednesday pleaded guilty on all counts for carrying out the 2018 shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead, including 14 students and three staff members.

Driving the news: Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty at a hearing on Wednesday to 17 murder counts and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder for carrying out the deadly shooting.