Yesterday I again heard the claim that Chinese births tend to spike in years of the dragon, the most recent being 2012, 2000 and 1988. Naturally, I was as skeptical of this saying as I am of the quote that September sees the highest number of births every year in far northern countries.
If Francois Mauriac loved Germany so much preferred having two of them, in this case I must be even luckier to love Chinese statistical departments so much I have at least three to chose from: the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the National Statistics Bureau of Taiwan, and the Government of Hong Kong.
There are of course also the World Bank statistics on Crude Birth Rate and Fertility Rate, but these seem to be so heavily rounded that they are more useful for looking at long-term trends than short-term spikes.
Of the ones above, the one that most clearly seemed to show any form of spike in birth rates in 1988, 2000 and 2012 was that of Taiwan, where fertility rates spiked over 10% in 2012 compared with only about 5% in 2000 and 1988, although the far more significant statistic in my view is the >50% decline in the birth rate over the past 30 years and the shift in births from mothers under the age 25 to those by mothers over the age of 35.
The PRC / Mainland statistics seemed to tell a far different story: while there did seem to be a slight uptick in 2012, both 2000 and 1998 showed substantial declines on the previous year as part of the larger trend of falling birth rates after they last seemed to rise and peak in the early 1980s as China adjusted to the post-Mao era.
Finally, here in Hong Kong, the statistics do seem to show slight upticks in all three of the latest dragon years, though this chart from the health department shows these blips are also dwarfed by broader trends.
I was at first surprised by the dramatic decline in birth rates in after 2012, but this actually seems to be a reversion to a long-term birth rate this SAR had been settling to between the 1997 handover / Asian financial crisis and the 2003 SARS epidemic before what seemed to be a multi-year doubling in birth rates post SARS leading up to 2012.
There’s of course far more to these statistics than can be said in a 400-word blog post, but hopefully this will provide some useful reference data for my (and your) next dim sum conversation on dragon babies and birth rate spikes.