Last year, the population of the nation of China dropped by at least two million people. That number is over double the nation’s population decline in 2022. For context, this is like the U.S. losing the entire population of the state of Nebraska or the city of Houston, Texas, in a single year. 

What continues to drive China’s drastic decline in population is a drop in births. In the last five years, the number of births there has dropped by almost half, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics. In 2017, China reported 17 million births. In 2023, it reported only 9 million, a number that fails to replace the 11 million people who died. 

In 2016, China revoked its infamous one-child policy. In recent yearslocal governments and corporations have made concentrated efforts to encourage and even incentivize citizens to have more kids. In Hangzhou, the local government offered $2,800 for those who had a third child in 2023. In Wenzhou, parents were offered over $400 for every child they had. Some companies are offering cash bonuses for the first five years of a child’s life. Yet, despite these efforts, China’s population continues to decline.  

To be clear, though its situation may be the most dramatic, China is not the only country facing population decline. Countries across the developed world, from Europe to East Asia, have birth rates well below the replacement rate. And, like China, several of them are attempting to incentivize citizens to have more children.    

The reason, as family policy scholar Patrick Brown has argued, that “debate over tax incentives” and other economic remedies to population decline aren’t working—in stark contrast to the economic policies that did work post-World War II in nations like France—is that “nations can’t buy their way out of a cultural shift.” In other words, today’s population decline isn’t, at the root, a policy or economic problem. It’s a worldview problem.  

Behind the developed world’s fertility struggles is a cultural shift in views, not only about children and parenting but, more fundamentally, about marriage and sex. As one Chinese official observed about the 2022 decline, citizens have lost a “willingness to have babies” and are delaying “marriage and pregnancy.”  

For starters, marriage is no longer viewed as a “foundation” upon which people can build lives and livelihoods. Increasingly, it is viewed as a kind of “capstone” that adorns young adulthood, coming after one has gone to college, achieved economic independence, and made a successful start in one’s career.  

Additionally, thanks to reproductive technologies like the pill, in vitro fertilization, and surrogacy, the severing of reproduction from the act of sex is nearly complete and, with it, a further disconnect between sex and its God-given purpose. It is now something of a cultural given to presume that sex exists primarily for one’s personal pleasure rather than for the conception of children.  

Also, the overall decline in religious observance in the past 20 years is important. After all, the religiously affiliated are far more likely to marry than the non-religious. Twenty years ago, 40% of those aged 22-39 attended church “less than once a year.” That number has increased to almost two-thirds as of 2021.  

It is these cultural changes, far more than public policy and economics, that have led to such dramatic changes in marriage and childbearing. As Patrick Brown put it: “Anyone concerned about low fertility needs to be concerned, first and foremost, about the decline of marriage.” If the nations of the world are to avoid the inevitable challenges of population decline, people will need to have children. The only way that will happen is if they are convinced of the truth, goodness, and beauty inherent in marriage and children.  

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Jared Hayden. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to 

Photo Courtesy: Charles Eugene/Unsplash
Publish Date: February 20, 2024

John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and radio host of BreakPoint, a daily national radio program providing thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

BreakPoint is a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. BreakPoint commentaries offer incisive content people can't find anywhere else; content that cuts through the fog of relativism and the news cycle with truth and compassion. Founded by Chuck Colson (1931 – 2012) in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends. Today, you can get it in written and a variety of audio formats: on the web, the radio, or your favorite podcast app on the go.