Modern China's birth rate falls to lowest ever

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s birth rate last year fell to its lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic of China 70 years ago, official data showed on Monday, with looser population controls failing to encourage couples to have more babies.

The birth rate stood at 10.94 per thousand, the lowest since 1949 and down from 12.43 per thousand in 2017, data from the statistics bureau showed. The number of babies born in 2018 fell by two million to 15.23 million.

The rate of natural increase in population, deducting the number of deaths, also slowed to the lowest since the aftermath of a disastrous famine in the early 1960s.

China allowed urban couples to have two children in 2016, replacing a one-child policy in place since 1979, with policymakers wary of falling birth rates and a rapidly growing aging population.

The statistics bureau did not suggest a reason for the birth rate decline but economic growth last year fell to its lowest in nearly three decades.

Many couples in China are reluctant to have children because they cannot afford to pay for health care and education amid surging property prices.

In January, a government-affiliated think tank warned that the population in the world’s second-biggest economy could start to shrink as soon as 2027.

Reporting by Stella Qiu, Yawen Chen and Ryan Woo; Editing by Nick Macfie