Japan’s prime minister issued a dire warning about the country’s population crisis on Monday, saying it was “on the brink of being unable to maintain social functions” due to the low birth rate.
In a policy address to lawmakers, Fumio Kishida said it was a matter of solving the problem “now or never,” and that she “simply could not wait any longer.”
“When considering the sustainability and inclusiveness of our nation’s economy and society, we make support for child-rearing our most important policy,” said the Prime Minister.
Kishida added that he wants the government to double its spending on programs related to children, and that a new government agency will be set up in April to focus on the issue.
Japanese town pays couples to have children (2018)
Japan has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, as the Ministry of Health expects that it will register fewer than 800,000 births in 2022 for the first time since registration began in 1899.
The country also has one of the highest life expectancies in the world; In 2020, nearly one in 1,500 people in Japan was 100 years of age or older, according to government data.
These trends have led to a growing demographic crisis, with society aging rapidly, the workforce shrinking and not enough young people to fill the gaps in the stagnant economy.
Experts point to several factors behind the low birth rate. The country’s high cost of living, limited space, and lack of childcare support in cities make it difficult to raise children, which means that fewer couples are having children. Urban couples are often far from an extended family who can help provide support.
Attitudes toward marriage and starting a family have also changed in recent years, with more couples leaving both spouses during the pandemic.
Some point to the pessimism that young people in Japan hold about the future, many of whom are frustrated with work pressures and economic stagnation.
The Japanese economy has stalled since the asset bubble burst in the early 1990s. The country’s GDP growth slowed from 4.9% in 1990 to 0.3% in 2019, according to the World Bank. Meanwhile, the real average annual household income fell from 6.59 million yen ($50,600) in 1995 to 5.64 million yen ($43,300) in 2020, according to 2021 data from the country’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
The government has launched various initiatives to address population decline over the past few decades, including new policies to enhance childcare services and improve housing facilities for families with children. Some rural towns have even started paying couples who live there to have children.
Shifting demographics is a concern in other parts of East Asia as well.
South Korea recently broke its own record for the lowest fertility rate in the world, with data from November 2022 showing that a South Korean woman will have an average of 0.79 children in her lifetime — well below the 2.1 needed to keep the population stable. The fertility rate in Japan is 1.3, while the fertility rate in the United States is 1.6.
Meanwhile, China’s population shrinks in 2022 for the first time since the 1960s, adding to its woes as it struggles to recover from the pandemic. The last time its population declined was in 1961, during a famine that killed tens of millions of people across the country.