Support for Marriage Vital as Number of Births Continues to Fall in Japan

The number of children being born is rapidly declining, and this situation cannot be overlooked. To curb the decrease in the number of births, it is important to implement effective measures to help young people get married free from anxiety.

According to preliminary data for vital statistics released by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the number of children born in 2020 decreased by 2.9% from the previous year to hit a record low of 872,683.

The number of births has been on the decline since 2016, when it fell below 1 million for the first time. A rapid fall in the population will lead to reduced economic and social vitality. The government must thoroughly tackle measures to deal with the low birthrate.

The preliminary figure includes the number of children born to foreign nationals living in Japan, so the finalized figure, which will be released after it is narrowed down to Japanese citizens in the country, will likely be even lower than the 2019 figure of 860,000.

The population of women in their 20s and 30s has been decreasing year by year. Although a decline in the number of births had been predicted, the government likely did not expect that it would happen at such a high speed.

It has long been said that the government’s outlook on the birthrate is too optimistic. The government should forgo optimism and formulate policies based on the harsh reality of the current situation.

There is also concern that the spread of the novel coronavirus may accelerate the decline in births.

The number of marriages last year stood at 530,000, down by 12% from the previous year. This is the biggest drop in 70 years since 1950, when the postwar marriage boom subsided. Quite a few people were also said to have refrained from having a wedding reception or postponed their marriage.

Marriage and childbirth are closely linked in Japan, and if the current situation continues, the number of births could fall further. Close attention needs to be focused on whether the declining number of births is a transient trend.

What the government should do is stabilize the basis of people’s lives so that young people do not hesitate to marry or have children for economic reasons.

According to a survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, many people cited financial and housing concerns as obstacles to marriage.

The percentage of nonregular workers is high among younger generations, and many such people also work in the food and drink sector and the tourism industry, both of which have been hit hard by the virus crisis. A situation where the burden is disproportionately shifted to young people must be avoided.

It is important for the government to encourage companies to actively hire employees and raise the level of wages, and also to expand stable employment by making it easier for people to acquire knowledge and skills useful for their jobs. It would likely also be effective to secure good-quality housing that younger generations would find comfortable to live in.

Some local governments are organizing programs to help men and women meet. It is hoped that the central and local governments will devise ways to support young people so that they can have hope for the future.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 1, 2021.