A senior adviser to the Japanese prime minister has cautioned that if action is not taken to curb its declining birthrate, Japan could face the possibility of “disappearing”. This warning comes in light of recent data from the health ministry, which shows that the country’s birth rate has hit a record low, with only 799,728 births in 2022 – the first time it has fallen below 800,000.
This concerning trend has persisted for decades, with the number of births decreasing by almost half in the past 40 years, from over 1.5 million recorded in 1982. According to Masako Mori, an adviser to the PM, the country’s birth rate is not declining gradually but instead heading “straight down”. She warned that if the birth rate continues to plummet, children born now could face a society that becomes distorted, shrinks, and loses its ability to function.
In January, PM Fumio Kishida emphasized the urgency of solving Japan’s low birth rate problem. The crisis is compounded by a record high of post-war deaths last year, surpassing 1.58 million, resulting in a growing problem for the third-largest economy in the world. The fertility rate of 1.3 is well below the required rate of 2.1 needed to maintain a stable population without relying on immigration. Additionally, Japan has one of the world’s highest life expectancies, with almost one in 1,500 people aged 100 or older in 2020.
Leaders in Japan are grappling with a growing elderly population and a shrinking workforce, which poses challenges for funding pensions and healthcare amidst surging demand from aging citizens.
To tackle the low birth rate crisis, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has warned that Japan is on the brink of being unable to maintain social functions. In response, a new government agency will be established in April, with Kishida aiming to double the government’s spending on child-related programs.
Could child-rearing support be the solution to Japan’s low birth rate crisis?
The country’s low birth rate is attributed to several social factors, such as the high cost of living, limited living space, and lack of child care support in urban areas, making it difficult for couples to raise children. According to financial institution Jefferies, Japan was ranked one of the world’s most expensive places to raise a child in 2022. Despite this, the country’s economy has stagnated since the early 1990s, and the average real annual household income has declined over time.
In addition to financial factors, attitudes towards marriage and starting families have also shifted. More couples are delaying both due to the pandemic, and young people are becoming increasingly pessimistic about their future.