‘It can’t wait’: Population crisis triggers alarms in Japan over low birth rate

The low birth rate and its aging population pose an urgent risk to the country, admitted Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who has pledged to address the problem by creating a new state agency. China and South Korea are facing similar phenomena.

Japan is in a critical demographic situation: in 2022 fewer than 800,000 births were recorded in the country, the lowest birth rate since records were recorded. For reference, in the 1970s, the number of births in the eastern country was around two million.

To the fall in the birth rate, which has been taking place for a decade in the country, must be added the increase in life expectancy in recent years – which averages 87 years for women and 81 years for men – and low immigration to the country. As a result, Japan has one of the oldest societies in the world, according to World Bank data, where 28% of Japan’s population is made up of adults over the age of 65, an age that coincides with the retirement period.

These phenomena place the Asian country and its functioning as a society in a critical scenario: they have to deal with a constantly growing elderly population, while the number of young people and working population decreases in a worrying way, which supports largely the pension system for the elderly. This is further supplemented by various demographic studies conducted in 2020, which predict that Japan’s total population will decline from a high of 127 million in 2017 to less than 53 million by the end of the century.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during a session in the Lower House of Parliament, on January 23, 2023, in Tokyo. Photo: AP

In this scenario, the Prime Minister of Japan, Fumio Kishida, said during a speech in the Lower House that the country’s demographic situation requires urgent solutions to avoid a crisis. “Japan is on the verge of being able to continue to function as a society. Focusing our attention on policies relating to children and their education is an issue that cannot wait or be postponed,” he said.

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Children play on trampolines on the second day of the Lunar New Year, in Beijing on January 23, 2023. Photo: AP

However, Japan is not the only one to have suffered declines in its birth rate, since its neighboring countries are in a similar situation.

In the case of China, the Asian giant’s Bureau of Statistics recently released a report on the first decline in total population since 1961, the time of the Great Famine. This revealed that the country closed 2022 with 1,411 million inhabitants, which means a drop of 850,000 people.

Additionally, there has been a historic drop in the country’s birth rate, which has reached 7.52 children per 1,000 population. On the other hand, the current Covid-19 crisis in China and the increase in the mortality rate (7.37 deaths per 1,000 inhabitants, the highest rate since 1976) have worsened the demographic situation.

The reason for the crisis is mainly attributed to China’s controversial “one child per family” policy, a measure that was put in place in 1979 to curb population growth, and was scrapped in 2016.

Another case is that of South Korea, the country which recorded the lowest birth rate in the world in 2022 for the second consecutive year, reaching 0.81 children per couple. Indeed, a total of 20,658 babies were born in October, which represents a decrease of 0.4% compared to the previous year. It is the lowest number for a month of October since the statistics agency began collecting the corresponding data in 1981.

Added to this is the gradual aging of the South Korean population, which by 2025 would reach the level of Japan. As the number of deaths exceeded the number of births, the country’s population fell by 9,104 people in October, marking the 36th consecutive month of decline. South Korea reported the first natural decline in its population in 2020, a grim demographic trend that has continued.

People wearing traditional South Korean ‘Hanbok’ costume take a selfie during a visit to celebrate the Lunar New Year at Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul. Photo: AP

The decline in the birth rate in all these countries is due to different factors, among which stand out the high cost of living and the current gloomy economic scenario of the Asian nations, which is why the population chooses not to have children. , facing an expense of upkeep and education that they cannot afford. This made Japan, China and South Korea the three most expensive countries to raise a child in, according to YuWa Population Research.

Government measures

In the case of Japan, the Prime Minister announced that he would create a government agency focusing on birth and childhood issues, as well as the proposal to double spending on related programs, invest in scholarships and a monetary assistance for families with children.

Meanwhile, this month South Korea took more drastic measures to tackle the demographic crisis, including low-interest loans and housing allowances for newlyweds, free childcare , the increase in parental leave from 12 to 18 months and the strengthening of benefits for the unemployed.

In another area, it was reported that regulations on immigration policies would be eased, alongside the promotion of employment opportunities for foreigners, with the aim of avoiding the aging of the population in the long term.

As for China, it has for years implemented measures such as increased maternity leave, housing subsidies, tax breaks and other economic incentives for families to have children.

However, many measures taken by South Korea and China have not had the expected results, and financial incentives and aid have failed to arrest the decline in population and birth rates, it is therefore to fear that the same thing will happen in Japan. .. and the population crisis overpowers the Japanese government’s attempts to stop it.

Source: Latercera

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