Japan's birth rate declined for a seventh consecutive year in 2022 to a record low of 1.26, the Health Ministry said Friday, adding to a sense of urgency in a country where the government is seen as too slow to take measures to address its rapidly shrinking and aging population.
The average number of children a woman gives birth to in her lifetime fell to 1.26 in 2022 from 1.30 a year earlier, tying the record low from 2005, according to the annual population statistics. The fertility rate is far below the rate of 2.06 -2.07 considered to be needed to maintain a population.
Japan's population of more than 125 million has been declining for 16 years and is projected to fall to 87 million by 2070. A shrinking and aging population has huge implications for the economy and for national security as Japan fortifies its military to counter China's increasingly assertive territorial ambitions.
The number of newborns in Japan also fell 5% to 77,747 babies last year, another new low, the Health Ministry said. The number of deaths jumped 9% to 1.57 million, as the population shrank by 798,214, continuing a 16-year streak of declines.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishia has set tackling the declining births as one of his top policy goals and pledged to introduce further drastic measures. “A last chance for us to reverse the declining births is before the young population is expected to decline drastically in 2030,” Kishida told a panel of experts commissioned to compile a package of measures at a meeting Thursday.
The government plans to secure annual funding of about 3.5 trillion yen ($25.2 billion) over the next three years for a new child care package, which includes child birth and rearing allowances as well as increased subsidies for higher education. Kishida's government said it would come up with specific measures and secure funding by the end of the year. Experts say the proposed measures are mostly additional funding for existing ones and don't address underlying problems.
Many younger Japanese have balked at marrying or having families, discouraged by bleak job prospects, corporate cultures that are incompatible with both parents — but especially women — working, and a lack of public tolerance for small children. Many couples also hesitate to have children due to rising costs.
Japan is the world's third-biggest economy but living costs are high, wage increases have been slow and about 40% of Japanese are part-time or contract workers. Critics say the government has lagged in making society more inclusive for children, women and minorities.
Under the conservative governing party, which supports traditional family values and gender roles, women who are unmarried or without children tend to be less respected, and marriage is a prerequisite for having children. So far, government efforts to encourage people to have more babies have had a limited impact despite subsidies for pregnancies, births and childcare.