The number of registered births in Japan plummeted to a new record low last year – the latest worrying statistic in a decades-long decline that the country’s authorities have been unable to reverse despite their extensive efforts.
The country saw 799,728 births in 2022, the lowest number on record and the first ever dip below 800,000, according to statistics released by the Health Ministry on Tuesday. That number has nearly halved over the past 40 years; Japan, on the other hand, recorded more than 1.5 million births in 1982.
Japan also reported a record high for post-war deaths last year, exceeding 1.58 million.
Deaths in Japan have exceeded births for more than a decade, posing a growing problem for the leaders of the world’s third-largest economy. They now face a rapidly growing elderly population, along with a shrinking workforce to fund pensions and health care as demand from the aging population rises.
Japan’s population has been steadily declining since the economic boom of the 1980s, reaching 125.5 million in 2021 according to the most recent government figures.
The fertility rate of 1.3 is well below the 2.1 figure needed to maintain a stable population, without immigration.
The country also has one of the highest life expectancies in the world; in 2020, according to government data, nearly one in 1,500 people in Japan was 100 years old or older.
These worrying trends led to a warning from Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in January that Japan is “on the verge of not preserving social functions.”
“When we think about the sustainability and inclusiveness of our country’s economy and society, we place support for raising children as our most important policy,” he said, adding that Japan “simply cannot wait any longer” in resolving the problem of his low birth rate. .
A new government agency will be set up in April to focus on the issue, with Kishida saying in January that he wants the government to double its spending on child-related programs.
But money alone may not be able to solve the multifaceted problem, with various social factors contributing to the low birth rate.
Japan’s high cost of living, limited space and lack of childcare support in cities make it difficult to raise children, meaning fewer couples are having children. Urban couples are also often far from extended family in other regions, who could help provide support.
By 2022, Japan was one of the most expensive places in the world to raise a child, according to research from the Jefferies financial institution. And yet the country’s economy has stalled since the early 1990s, resulting in frustratingly low wages and little upward mobility.
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 Welfare.
Attitudes towards marriage and starting a family have also changed in recent years, with more couples putting both off during the pandemic – and young people feeling increasingly pessimistic about the future.
It’s a familiar story in East Asia, where South Korea’s fertility rate – already the lowest in the world – fell again last year on the latest setback to the country’s efforts to spur population decline.
Meanwhile, China is closing in on officially losing its title as the world’s most populous country to India after its population shrank in 2022 for the first time since the 1960s.