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The world’s 2nd largest toy market is going to have less children needing toys based on a recently reported drop in birth rate which sees this critical indicator for the toy trade drop to the lowest rate in 6 decades. The reasons for China’s ongoing issues with lowering birth rate and aging population are well reported, but in summary:

  1. The legacy of China’s one child policy lives on, with young adults in China today increasingly seeing the benefits of not having children.

  2. Cost of raising children has increased significantly in time, making it less likely that parents would choose to have multiple children.

  3. The demographic structural effects of the one child policy lead to many families preferring to have male children, this has left far fewer marriage age/child-bearing women versus available men.

China’s government has and is taking steps to address the issue of birth rate decline, with a strong push on reducing education and other child related costs, but nevertheless a serious demographic imbalance threatens to derail China’s unparalleled economic growth and rise in living standards.

More specifically from the toy industry perspective there are two key implications of this:

Firstly, the next generation of toy users (i.e. children!) will be a somewhat smaller group versus previous generations. Although this shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a catastrophe for the toy business, because there were still 10.62 million births in 2021, compared with a rough average of 3.5m to 4m each year in the USA. China then still has way more new children every year than the world’s number one toy market. Moreover, at the same time as we have seen a decline in birth rates, we have also seen a massive increase in standard of living – to put the demographic data in context, average wages in China have more than doubled in the last decade. In other words, we have a slightly smaller potential consumer base, but massively more money which could be spent on toys & games. Economic advancement is likely to continue for China’s people, and it seems likely that the Chinese government’s programs are likely to eventually curtail the dropping birth rate.

The second key implication for the toy business relates to toy manufacturing – as I have written extensively, one of the key trends in toy manufacturing is a gradual shift of some toy manufacturing away from China. What the current growth rate highlights is that the potential workforce will be smaller in 20 years time than it is now, while at the same time living standards and wage expectations are likely to continue to grow. This means that we are looking at a long-term situation whereby labour-intensive toy manufacturing will have a smaller pool of workers to access, and those workers are less likely to find lower paying factory work viable. Over that same 20-year period of course humanity is expecting yet another tech revolution caused by artificial intelligence and an accompanying increase in the capabilities and flexibilities of robotisation. So, in terms of toy manufacturing, it appears to be the case that China’s demographic situation will discourage toy manufacturing in China over time, unless AI & more advanced robots can plug the gap.

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