How Will Japan Deal with Critically Declining Birth Rate?

It can be said that this is a critical figure that will lead to the decline of the nation’s strength. The government should take every possible measure to turn around the falling birth rate.

According to preliminary figures on population statistics released by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, the number of babies born in 2022 fell to 799,728, down 5.1% from the previous year and marking the first time the number has fallen below 800,000 since statistics began in 1899.

An increase in the number of people delaying marriage and childbearing due to the prolonged coronavirus pandemic is believed to be the reason for the significant decrease in newborns in 2022. As the preliminary figure includes the births of foreigners residing in Japan, the final tally comprising Japanese nationals alone is expected to be even lower.

If the population of younger generations continues to decline at this rate, it will be difficult to expect economic growth. Maintaining social security systems such as pensions and medical and nursing care services will also become difficult.

It is important to resolve the social factors that are causing the declining birth rate. There is also a need to consider changing the structure of social security systems based on the premise of a declining population.

The decline in the number of marriages is directly related to the declining birth rate. Last year, there were 519,800 marriages, two-thirds of the level 30 years ago. The number of young people is decreasing and the percentage of unmarried people is increasing.

Many young people are unable to marry or have children due to uncertainty about their future in work and life. Nonregular employment is increasing in various occupations, and wages have not increased for many years. It is vital for the government to create stable employment and encourage corporations to increase wages.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has stated that the government will take “unprecedented measures to deal with the declining birth rate” and will compile concrete measures for that purpose by the end of March.

The ruling parties have proposed removing the income limit on child allowance, under which parents receive ¥10,000 to ¥15,000 a month for each child through junior high school, and expanding the scope of the allowance to include children of high school age.

Another proposal is to reduce the income tax of parents in proportion to the number of children they have, based on a policy implemented in France.

However, both proposals have advantages and disadvantages and conclusive data is lacking.

There is no denying that the ruling parties appear to have come out with policies on the spur of the moment without any explanations about how such measures would be funded. Winning public favor ahead of unified local elections seems to be the priority.

The prime minister also announced that he would “double” the budget for policies related to child rearing but changed tack after failing to clarify the base amount that would be doubled. It is not good to merely spout enthusiastically about securing the budget without presenting concrete measures.

There are many issues that need to be addressed, such as curbing long working hours and promoting greater involvement of men in childcare. While there is no quick fix for the declining birth rate, it is crucial to consider policies with high expectations of success.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 1, 2023)