Last year, the number of babies born in Japan hit a record low. This year, the numbers are even worse. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno calls this a “critical situation.” He promises comprehensive measures to encourage more marriages and births.
A total of 599,636 Japanese babies were born this year between January and September. That’s 4.9% below last year’s figure. The number of births in all of 2022 will likely fall below last year’s record low of 811,000 babies.
Why so few? Japan is the world’s third biggest economy. But it costs a lot to live there, and wage increases have been slow.
The government now provides financial help for pregnancy, childbirth, and child care. But so far, these efforts have not encouraged enough people to have more babies.
Many younger Japanese choose not to marry or have families. They’re discouraged by bleak job prospects and long commutes to work. They know many employers in Japan make it hard for both parents to work outside the home.
The number of births has been falling since 1973, when it peaked at about 2.1 million. It’s projected to fall to 740,000 in 2040.
Japan’s population of more than 125 million has been declining for 14 years. It may fall to 86.7 million by 2060. Why does that matter? A shrinking and aging population has huge implications for the economy and national security. If Japan has few young people in the coming years, who will work? Who will join the military? This is a pressing need. Japan is trying to fortify its military as China pushes for more territory.
Japan has become a famously elderly nation. Birthrates shrank, and people live longer. Japan has a higher percentage of people over 65 than just about any other country. At banks in Japan, workers keep extra reading glasses on counters for elderly people. Large-print train schedules hang beside the ones in regular print. Many escalators are designed to carry wheelchairs. “Wisdom is with the aged.” (Job 12:12) And “children are a heritage from the Lord.” (Psalm 127:3) To make a nation work, you need both age groups.
(Children play in water at a park in Yokohama, Japan, on August 18, 2020. AP/Koji Sasahara)