Birth rate sinks in Japan at record low

Japan is facing a deepening demographic crisis, as government data reveals a record eighth consecutive year of decline in the number of babies born. In 2023, only 758,631 babies were born, marking a 5.1% decrease from the previous year and reaching the lowest number of births since Japan began recording such statistics in 1899. The decline in marriages, falling by 5.9% to 489,281 couples, is identified as a key factor contributing to the dwindling birth rate. Japan’s traditional family values, rooted in a paternalistic tradition, result in rare out-of-wedlock births.

Surveys indicate that many young Japanese individuals are hesitant to marry or start families due to discouraging job prospects, rapidly rising living costs outpacing salaries, and corporate cultures incompatible with dual-income households. Additionally, the perception of crying babies and children playing as nuisances contributes to a sense of isolation among young parents.

Yoshimasa Hayashi, the chief cabinet secretary, emphasizes the critical state of the declining birthrate, highlighting the next six years as the last chance to reverse the trend before a rapid decline in the younger population. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has identified the low birthrate as Japan’s “biggest crisis” and proposed measures, including increased support and subsidies primarily for childbirth, children, and their families.

However, experts express skepticism about the effectiveness of government efforts, suggesting that they have predominantly targeted individuals already married or planning to have children, rather than addressing the growing population of young people reluctant to take those steps. The decline in births, which peaked at around 2.1 million 50 years ago, has outpaced earlier projections, falling below 760,000 annually.

Japan’s population, projected to decrease by about 30% to 87 million by 2070, poses significant economic and national security implications. As the country strengthens its military to counter China’s assertive territorial ambitions, the challenges of a shrinking and aging population become more pronounced.

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