Recently, the problems caused by low birth rates have been highlighted in different parts of the world, but these demographic problems are now becoming a threat to some countries. “Our country is on the verge of not being able to maintain the functions of society,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida declared in January to Parliament. What Kishida means is that his country will plunge into an economic and social crisis unless Japan reverses its population decline.
The world’s population now stands at eight billion, and it is growing, but the rate of increase is slowing down significantly. The current increase in the world’s population is mainly driven by Africa, where, although relatively low, birth rates are still strong.
In much of the rest of the world, birth rates are well below replacement rates, and the world population will peak at 10.4 billion in 2100, and then decline.
The fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman is necessary to maintain a stable population, and the current fertility rate of Japan (1.3), which is almost the same as that of China, and is higher than that of Taiwan (1.0) and South Korea (0.8). It is slightly lower than the traditionally Catholic countries Poland (1.39), Italy (1.47) and Ireland (1.6). The average fertility rate is 1.67 in 37 OECD countries, and the global fertility rate is 2.43 (5.0 in 1950).
Japan’s population has been declining for years, and it is now one of the fastest aging countries on earth, with nearly 30% of the population over 65 years old. Only 2.09 million babies were born in 2022, and empty classrooms cause schools to close.
If current trends continue, Japan’s population will drop from 128 million in 2017 to 50 million in 2100, and neighboring China will also suffer from demographic problems. For most of recorded history, China has boasted the world’s largest population, yet China will cede that distinction to India later this year. After 36 years of the one-child policy, China is facing a population deficit crisis, and the Chinese government is now encouraging families to have two or three children.
Many young people in rich countries today no longer feel that having and raising children is a fulfilling life project. Having children in Japan is a heavy economic burden, which is a strong reason for people to have fewer children. Education in this country is very expensive and daily working hours are long. Extremely unsuitable for family life, young women fear that having children means they have to end their careers to stay at home.
One of the big problems with a below-replacement birth rate is that the ratio of younger workers to non-working elderly citizens is rapidly declining, making it very difficult to run the economy and fund social services. Successive Japanese governments have avoided opening the doors to immigrants, as part of a solution to alleviate chronic shortages employment, and pressure on health and social security financing. Only 2% of Japan’s population is “foreign” compared to an average of 12% in OECD countries, so the answers to Japan’s demographic problems must come from within.
Kishida said that reversing the demographic trend is a top priority of his administration, and the plan is to spend a lot of money to have more children to drive the economy and maintain the social structure.
He said, “Policies and children and caring for them are the most effective investment for the future.” The state will provide $592 annually for couples with a child, in addition to existing payments of $115 per month for each child until age three, and then an $80 allowance paid until the child graduates from high school.
However, it seems certain that more stimulus and efforts will be needed to increase the Japanese birth rate as required, and the social infrastructure must be built to encourage people to feel safe enough to have children, including generous maternity leave, and guarantees that having children will not adversely affect their lives. Career prospects, generous mortgage terms for parents of young children, etc. According to the OECD report, in countries that have reversed a slight decline in fertility rates recently, the main determinant is more equal sharing of family duties.
The situation is serious, and if the demographic situation is not corrected, Japan risks fading far into the background of history, and Japan can successfully address its demographic decline. The Japanese are a proud people with traditions of samurai and bushido warriors. Vanishing is not present in Japanese nature.
• Only 2% of Japan’s population are foreigners.
• 50 million is the population of Japan in the year 2100.
• The social infrastructure must be built (in Japan) to encourage people to feel safe enough to have children, including generous maternity leave, and guarantees that having children will not negatively affect career prospects.
• Japan’s population has been declining for years, and it is now one of the fastest aging countries on earth, with nearly 30% of the population over 65 years old.