Record-Low Birth Rate: Falling Number of Marriages A Serious Issue

The decline in the number of births has not been stopped. If this trend continues, the population who are the social and economic driving force of the nation will decrease and the continuation of the social security system could be endangered. To overcome the national crisis, it is essential for society as a whole to address the issue.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has released Japan’s vital statistics for 2023.

The number of Japanese newborns was 727,277, and the total fertility rate — the number of children a woman is estimated to give birth to in her lifetime — was 1.20. Both figures decreased for the eighth consecutive year and marked record lows.

Each year until 2015, the number of births exceeded 1 million. In the eight years since then, the number has decreased by nearly 30%.

The decline in the number of marriages is also extremely serious. Last year, for the first time in the postwar period, the number of couples marrying fell below 500,000, down to about 470,000.

Deciding whether to get married is a matter of personal choice. But if there are people who want to marry but have given up for economic reasons, this is a problem.

Many young people are non-regular workers, for whom it may be difficult to earn a sufficient income.

The government should encourage private companies more strongly to make young people full-time employees and raise their wages, and should support the improvement of their working conditions. It is hoped that the government will also make additional efforts, such as by providing quality housing.

Meanwhile, the Diet enacted a revised law on support for children and child-rearing that includes measures to address the declining birth rate. The Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has described the measures as being of a “different dimension.”

Regarding financial support for households raising children, the revised law will remove income limits for the child allowance, and also will extend the duration of the allowance from the current “through junior high school age” to “through high school age.” The allowance will be increased to ¥30,000 per month for third and subsequent children, regardless of the child’s age.

The aim is to reduce the financial burden on households with children.

However, solely enhancing financial support will not be enough to overcome the decline in the birth rate.

In recent years, the trend toward later marriages and later childbearing has been accelerating, and more than a few families are unable to have a second or third child even if they want to.

In addition to young people who cannot have children for financial reasons, the number of those who say they do not want to have children at all seems to be increasing.

Although there may be various circumstances behind this, those who do not want to have children may receive pension benefits or nursing care services when they reach old age. Then they may feel the importance of a system of intergenerational support.

There are many challenges posed by a declining population. It is important for the government to make efforts to educate the public so that more people will share the same awareness of the issue. There is a need to ascertain the circumstances and backgrounds of young people who are hesitant to get married or have children, and to take comprehensive measures.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 8, 2024)