Mainstream Media Blindness to China’s Depopulation Dividend

China’s population has started decreasing, which the media reports as an economic disaster. In his article originally published at Overpopulation News, Jon Austen explores how the media ignores the benefits of such a decline and finds agreement among commenters.

By Jon Austen

China has had its first fall in population in 61 years. The media has reported the story as a disaster for the economy, but is it really a disaster, or is it actually good news just presented as bad news? Isn’t a human population decline good news for the environment and shouldn’t we be happy about that?

If we compare what the articles say and what the public’s comments on the articles say, there is fundamental disconnect between what gets reported and what the public actually think. Most people would think that the fall in China’s population is actually quite a good thing, with less pressure on natural resources and the environment and that the media would reflect this in some news stories, but it just doesn’t.

This isn’t just my opinion. If you look at the top four news items on the subject as presented by Google News, then compare what the article says with the public comments on those articles, you will see the opinion between the two datasets could not be further apart.

The news is that China, the world’s most populous country, has just passed its peak in population and the curve is just beginning to bend down. The press reports this as a disaster for the economy, for pension provision and tax revenues, so it does indeed pose some challenges. However, there is not a single sentence in any of the articles that mentions any of the the benefits that a smaller population will bring. Despite the financial challenges that a decline in population will bring, they are tiny when compared to the benefits.

Here are four articles and key sentiment from them:

The New York Times ‘China’s Population Falls, Heralding a Demographic Crisis’, saying there will be labour shortages and pension shortfalls and that “the country is being thrust into a demographic crisis that will have consequences not just for China and its economy but for the world”.

The Daily Telegraph ‘Blow for China’s economy as population falls’,

The Washington Post ‘China’s first population decline in 60 years sounds demographic alarm’, with a renowned scholar saying ‘the lack of a robust social security net or pension system could “evolve into a humanitarian catastrophe”’

The Guardian ‘China’s first population fall since 1961 creates ‘bleaker’ outlook for country’ with one researcher saying “China’s real demographic crisis is beyond imagination” and that “all of China’s past economic, social, defence, and foreign policies were based on faulty demographic data”

Take a look at the comments, what the readers think, and it’s not just a different opinion, it’s the polar opposite: we’re overpopulated, the planet is in crisis, a drop in population is good news. The three comments below are the top rated comments from each of the articles above, you can see these comments for yourself if you follow the links.

The top rated comment in the New York Times is:

“Is this a catastrophe, or a happy article for Earth? A reduction in the world population is a good thing one would think. When I was born in the 50’s the population was about 2.5 billion. Now it stands at 8 billion. More than tripling in my lifetime is beyond scary. We are seeing fracture points in terms of climate, water, CO2 and more. ”

The top rated comment at The Washington Post :

“The notion that a population can and must grow forever has always seemed insanely short sighted to me, and I’ve never understood why every government takes it as a given.

We live in a finite world. That is an immutable, thermodynamic fact. You can’t grow a consumptive system infinitely within a finite environment. That’s basic, self-evident, 2+2 logic. If you lock two rabbits in a room with a hundred lettuce plants, eventually you will have very many rabbits and no lettuce. And then, shortly thereafter, no rabbits”

Even The Daily Telegraph’s top comment is pro-decline:

“I am always puzzled by the doom and gloom surrounding population numbers. There are 8bn of us on the planet which is being degraded daily. Millions in East Africa are totally dependent on food aid.

Over population is the biggest challenge we face not carbon dioxide”.

The Guardian has not enabled comments for their article, as is often the case with articles on population that will gain comments that don’t fit with the Guardian’s narrative, a policy of comment censorship – so much for free speech there.

The readers aren’t falling for the pro-growth propaganda promoted in the mainstream press. But why is there this disconnect between the writers and the readers? Why does all of the mainstream press insist that population decline is a crisis and only report this narrow-minded side of the story?

This is a good news story and people know it as the comments show. The projections on Chinese population decline won’t listen to the media’s tales of woe and the population fall is set to continue for several decades, gradually increasing in pace as it does, so this story will repeat itself again and again. The next story will be when India overtakes China as the most populous country on Earth later in 2023. China itself has got richer because of its falling birth rates, giving it a far higher per capita income than India.

The real story is that a long term fall in population means less pressure on food systems and less need for carbon intensive agriculture. It means an end to the need to build, which is also highly carbon intensive. It means less pollution, less deforestation, less overfishing, less waste, less pressure on groundwater. Less consumption of finite resources. Less destruction, allowing nature to recover.

A declining population isn’t a failure of society, it is the opposite. It is recovery from overshoot and excess, it is space to breathe, it is the tide beginning to go back out to reveal the sandy beach once again.

A long term population decline is projected for many countries. Should we be fighting it, or should we embrace it instead, go with it and enjoy the ride? Population decline is like being at the top of a hill. You’ve spent ages trudging up the hill using up all your energy. Now you’re at the top, the view is great and the way down is so much easier, so just enjoy it.

Is it the corporate paymasters who dictate the narrow-minded story which is blandly regurgitated by the puppet reporters? Or is it just lazy journalism following the same storyline spin every time? The journalists seem to be in a peculiar parallel universe, seeing the world differently to those of us living in the real world. If they took off their corporate distortion goggles, they could get a grip on reality and tell the truth. Do they ever read the comments?

We’re not being directly lied to by the media, but being given a half-truth. If this misrepresentation of the facts happens here, it begs the question of where else is it happening, where else are we being led astray?

Hopefully the mainstream media will change tune and at the very least report both sides to a story. There is enough bad news around as it is, it would be a popular and welcome relief for readers to be given the positive side to a story. Until then, ignore the propaganda and just read the comments.


Originally published at Overpopulation News.

If you want to read more about how China’s population decline can be beneficial, TOP recommends this article by Catherine Bowen and Vegard Skirbekk.

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19 thoughts on “Mainstream Media Blindness to China’s Depopulation Dividend

  1. Blind!? Don’t be absurd! They are nothing of the sort. They are merely putting out the propaganda that we now ALLOW them to, since dregulation!

    What they ARE DOING–since with DEREGULATION our own oligarchy now control, substantively ALL MEDIA in the U.S. and much of the Free World–is making darned sure to do what they have consistently done for 30 years: Present only the part of the PRO-GROWTH population “side” of things they want out there. (Come on! If media were HONEST, they’d point out that a vast majority of climate scientists say we can’t address population while growing our population!

    Are any of you naive enough to believe that it’s just coincidence that periodically U.S. lamestream media–from T.V., through magazines and newspapers–“just happen” to put stories out there about the falling U.S. birthrate as they PRETEND that means our population is falling, when they know d—-d well, that immigration drive 93-percent of our exploding population? (Though perhaps you haven’t noticed that just since 2000, the U.S. has increased in population by NEARLY 60 MILLION?)

    And the one I condemn most is TAX-SUPPORTED (to the tune of half-a-BILLION A YEAR) PBS, which used to provide an alternative to commercial television, but which today, IN VIOLTION OF ITS OWN FOUNDING CHARTER, airs commercials and clearly serves WALL STREET, and not the American people. To PBS, I say, “No, I’ll never donate again until you adhere to your founding principals!” And that includes, when you report on China’s population, not just have one old bag sitting there telling us how awful that is, but DUH! allowing other views too!

  2. 2nd half of Wall St. Journal article, By Liyan Qi, Jan. 16, 2023
    China’s steep decline in births, especially compared with India’s, is likely to have big economic consequences.
    India benefits from a younger workforce and younger population which helps it attract investment and build a stronger consumer market, said Manoj Kewalramani, chairman of the Indo-Pacific studies program at India’s Takshashila Institution think tank. “Not too many older people will be shopping for new cars, new gadgets, new homes,” he said. But he said having a large young population isn’t necessarily a blessing as providing education and job opportunities has been challenging.
    As Beijing shifts from seeking to control Covid-19 to trying to revive growth, a shrinking population means softening demand for property, a pillar of economic growth for China, said Yi Fuxian, a scientist at the U. of Wisconsin-Madison. “The hyped expectations for a strong recovery in the Chinese economy post zero-Covid might be too optimistic,” he said.
    It has become increasingly hard for the Chinese govt to convince young people to have more kids to support a rapidly aging population. Already, one out of every five Chinese is 60 years or older.
    Since China allowed couples to have 3 kids in 2021, local govts have tried anything from cash rewards and longer maternity leaves. To facilitate marriages, local officials have organized matchmaking events and sought to limit dowry payments.

    In the latest move to encourage births, Shenzhen last week announced a plan to give local residents up to 10,000 yuan, equivalent to $1,484, as a lump-sum birth allowance and up to 3,000 yuan each year in child-rearing costs until the child is 3.
    Such efforts haven’t seemed to yield much in terms of results. China’s marriage registrations, following a sharp decline in 2021, continued to drop over the first 9 months of last year, the latest official data showed.
    Underlying factors, such as the dwindling number of women of childbearing age, coupled with impact from the Covid-19 control measures, accelerated the population decline.

    In recent years, Beijing has put more emphasis on women’s role in educating children and caring for the elderly as birth and marriage rates drop. Meanwhile, more young women are rejecting traditional family values touted by the government and older generations.
    An art student in the western city of Xi’an said she is focusing on finishing her degree and promoting social justice, especially women’s-rights issues outside classrooms.
    “No marriage, no kids for me as long as our society is still so unfair to women,” said the Xi’an native.

    The student, who participated in nationwide protests in late November against Beijing’s zero-Covid policy, said she and her friends have found their voices after a series of high-profile incidents of violence against women in different parts of China, including footage of a trafficked woman who had been chained in a shed, which sparked nationwide outrage early last year.
    China has recently revised a women’s-rights law, which introduced safeguards against sexual harassment and workplace discrimination against women, but also introduced a list of moral standards for women to uphold, including “respecting social morals, professional ethics and family values.”

  3. Interesting in that it presents yet another example of how we continue to fail the lessons of history. When the industrial age in England first started many found themselves out of a job. We all know the story of the Luddites On a report today from NPR was a story of how high tech workers were being laid off at high numbers. Guess what, more and more they are being replaced with their own technology. This is especially the fault of those in the AI field. The artificial intelligence they have created is, more and more, able to writ their own code. An article in the Atlantic: talks about how some of us are actually seeing being replaced by another form of intelligence as a good thing. Unfortunately, when we follow the propaganda by the corporations it will only mean, in the end, more will suffer our eventual demise.

  4. A couple thoughts.
    – it’s the same with Japan. I was listening with extreme frustration to the Italian national public radio this morning, on and on about how Japan has a huge problem with its declining population, even the prime minister is worried, what they could do about it, etc. Not a single mention of how Japan it’s so crowded it’s driving its own people insane. Yesterday it was Egypt and how they don’t have food because the government is spending money on other things instead – no mention of how many people are living in a tiny fertile strip in the middle of the desert and popping out babies like there’s no tomorrow while waiting for their government to subsidise the bread
    – it’s good that people are more aware of ecological limits than the media and politicians, but are they really? At least in Italy, it seems that everyone is in awe of the French mass protests against the raising of the retirement age. But if we don’t do that, there aren’t many other ways to pay for pensions. They are an enormous strain on government budgets already
    So no, I don’t think it’s just the corporate media and dishonest journalists. I think it’s people who are selfish and illogical. If we accepted to share work and income more fairly and to receive on average lower pensions, demographic decline would be a much easier sell.

    1. Yes, there is still a large proportion of people who have no idea about overpopulation and carrying capacity. As things begin to get worse they still might not connect the dots as it’s often the symptom and not the cause that is noticed

      1. Yes, but more than that, it’s an unwillingness to give up anything once you realise you should. Inequality plays a huge role in this, as people think: “why me, but not them?”

  5. A paper from Negative Population Growth on Japan’s declining population touted all the good things happening because of the declining population (more affordable housing, food are two big ones). The BIG issue is our corporate mantra of constant. The idea of constant growth on a finite planet is madness and we are reaping the ills. Nature has rules and will not follow the economist inability to follow those rules. There was once a report that insurance companies are going bankrupt because of all the natural disaster. When corporations start losing their base maybe then they’ll wake up but it will be too late for this species.

  6. In my opinion, this is an OUTSTANDING article, making the key point every true concerned environmental organization should be making . . . over and over and over!

  7. Great report Jon. It was exactly the same in Australia, with media breathlessly reporting China’s population decline as a disaster for both China and Australia, when it is neither. Kelvin Thomson

    1. That a place like Australia is so hell-bent on growing its population just to be one of the big players and please corporate interests looks like total madness to me.

      1. Gaia, “total madness” it is, but mostly coming from the political parties and the powerful “stakeholders”. Or, to put it another way, the egotistical educated classes. Poll after poll shows that ordinary voters want lower population growth.

        As ever, education and common sense are not the same thing.

      2. Power corrupts; it makes people do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do!
        How many times does it have to be said?

  8. Thanks & I loved reading your article. I was also wondering about the same for a while. A disaster to whom? To big corporations outside china depending on current young Labour market in China? Because the Chinese government doesn’t see it as a problem.

    The Chinese government. They stated the below:
    Kang Yi, director of the National Bureau of Statistics, said that the negative population growth is the result of economic and social development at a certain stage. In 2022, the country’s population will decrease by 850,000, mainly due to the decrease in the number of newborns. related to the reduction of the female population. At the same time, he believes that the overall supply of labor in the country “still” exceeds demand, and the quality of labor is “still” improving. Therefore, the reduction of the total population does not mean the disappearance of the demographic dividend.

  9. Thanks Momen, it’s great to see officials making those points – especially that labour supply still exceeds demand. Can you provide a web link to those statements?

    1. The source I saw is from Beijing Municipality website

      the link to the article where those statements are made

      Also positive statements about the declining population from Chinese National Bureau of Statistics can be found here

      Note that those articles are in Chinese and not in English

  10. Just read a piece in the latest Smithsonian on the plight of Lions in Africa. “Even as recently as a century ago, it has been reliably estimated that hundreds of thousands roamed Africa, the Middle East and India. Today, because of habitat loss and rapid human population growth, only about 20,000 African lions are thought to remain in the wild…” Apparently, we still have some public entities that are willing to call a spade a spade.

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