China's population shrank last year for the first time in 70 years, experts said, warning of a "demographic crisis" that puts pressure on the country's slowing economy.
The world's most populous nation of about 1.4 billion for decades limited most families to one child in an attempt to keep population growth sustainable.
But since 2016, it has allowed couples to have two children in response to concerns about an ageing society and shrinking workforce.
The number of live births nationwide in 2018 fell by 2.5 million year on year, contrary to a predicted increase of 790,000 births, according to an analysis by US-based academic Yi Fuxian.
Last year marked a "historic turning point for the Chinese population", said Dr Yi, who studied publicly available data on births in towns and villages across China.
This downward trend may be irreversible, he cautioned, due to factors such as a decrease in the number of women of childbearing age and the reluctance of couples to have children due to rising education, health and housing costs.
The number of women of childbearing age is expected to fall by more than 39 per cent over the next decade and China's two-child policy isn't enough to shore up dwindling birth rates, He added.
Dr Yi said he was sceptical of the National Bureau of Statistics figures, accusing the organisation of "inflating the number of births" to account for families who may not have registered their second, third or fourth child.
Local authorities seeking more funds from the central government have also "over-reported" school enrolment figures and hospital live births, he said.
Dr Yi added that the statistics bureau may have also under-reported the number of dead.
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