The number of births registered in Japan fell to another record low last year – the latest worrying statistic in a decade-long decline which the country’s authorities have failed to reverse despite their considerable efforts.
The country recorded 799,728 births in 2022, the lowest number on record and the first dip below 800,000, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Health on Tuesday. This number has almost halved over the past 40 years; in contrast, Japan recorded more than 1.5 million births in 1982.
Japan also reported a record postwar death toll last year, at more than 1.58 million.
The deaths have births exceeded in Japan for more than a decade, posing a growing problem for leaders of the world’s third-largest economy. They now face a burgeoning elderly population, as well as a shrinking workforce to fund pensions and health care as demand from the aging population increases.
Japan’s population has been in steady decline since its economic boom in the 1980s and stood at 125.5 million in 2021, according to the most recent government figures.
Its fertility rate of 1.3 is well below the rate of 2.1 required to maintain a stable population, in the absence of immigration.
The country also has one of the highest life expectancies in the world; in 2020, nearly one in 1,500 people in Japan were 100 or older, according to government data.
These worrying trends have prompted a warning in January from Prime Minister Fumio Kishida that Japan is “on the verge of not being able to maintain its social functions”.
“In thinking about the sustainability and inclusiveness of our nation’s economy and society, we place support for children’s education as our most important policy,” he said, adding that Japan “simply can’t wait” to solve the problem of its low birth rate. .
A new government agency will be created in April to focus on the issue, with Kishida saying in January that he wanted the government to double spending on child-related programs.
But money alone might not be able to solve the multi-pronged problem, with various social factors contributing to the low birth rate.
Japan’s high cost of living, limited space, and lack of childcare services in cities make it difficult to raise children, which means fewer couples have children. Urban couples are also often estranged from extended family in other areas, who could help provide support.
In 2022, Japan was ranked among the most expensive places in the world to raise a child, according to a study by the financial institution Jefferies. And yet, the country’s economy has stalled since the early 1990s, meaning frustrating wages and low upward mobility.
The average real 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 Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Affairs.
Attitudes towards marriage and starting families have also changed in recent years, with more couples postponing both during the pandemic – and young people feeling increasingly pessimistic about the future.
It’s a familiar story across East Asia, where South Korea’s fertility rate – already the lowest in the world – fell again last year in the latest setback to the country’s efforts to boost its declining population.
Meanwhile, China is closing in on the official loss of its title as most populous country in the world in India after its population declined in 2022 for the first time since the 1960s.