Last year, there were significant changes in the population of China, and some phenomena that we considered normal suddenly changed. For example, the four major first-tier cities in China, namely Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, all experienced a decline in their permanent resident population.
In Beijing, the number of permanent residents in 2022 decreased by 43,000 compared to the same period in 2021. In Shanghai, the permanent resident population in 2022 decreased by 135,400 compared to the same period in 2021. By the end of 2022, the permanent resident population in Guangzhou was 76,500 less than at the end of 2021. In Shenzhen, the total permanent resident population in 2022 decreased by 19,800 compared to the end of 2021.
Although collectively referred to as “first-tier cities,” these four cities have significant differences. Beijing and Shanghai have strict controls on urban scale, so the population decline is not too surprising. Guangzhou and Shenzhen, on the other hand, have been more relaxed in terms of attracting migrants, and in previous years, they had a net population increase of hundreds of thousands of people annually.
However, even Guangzhou and Shenzhen experienced a decline in population last year.
In fact, we mentioned the trend of population decline in first-tier cities last year. In our article titled “Cities Are Being Grasped at with Feet Voting: You Don’t Have to Fight for Them,” we mentioned that in 2021, Guangzhou, which had the lowest threshold for household registration and a relatively low cost of living among the first-tier cities, only had a net population increase of 70,300.
Considering the impact of the pandemic and the negative population growth in China in 2022, it is not surprising that Guangzhou experienced a negative population growth last year.
Of course, it can be argued that the decline in population in first-tier cities due to the pandemic, which prevented many people from working in these cities, is temporary, and the population will recover and continue to grow in the future.
However, there was another trend worth noting last year.
According to the “2022 Migrant Workers Monitoring Report” released by the National Bureau of Statistics, the number of local migrant workers in 2022 was 124 million, a year-on-year increase of 2.4%. The number of migrant workers from other regions was 172 million, with a year-on-year increase of only 0.1%. At the same time, the majority of migrant workers moved within their own province, and inter-provincial migration decreased by 1.0% compared to the previous year.
This means that the mobility range of migrant workers is gradually shrinking. With a decrease in inter-provincial migration, the number of migrant workers choosing to move to large cities will also decrease.
The reason for the decreasing trend in the inflow of migrant workers to major cities is simple: the investment required to enter these cities does not yield proportional returns.