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Home > Media Reviews > News Review Last Updated: 14:53 03/09/2007
News Review #297: June 2, 2005

Japan's Fertility Hits Record Low

Reviewed by Hitoshi URABE

Japan's Fertility Hits Record Low


Birth rate in Japan dropped again for the fourth year, to mark another record low.

The birth rate, or in more precise terms, "total fertility rate" in Japan dropped to a record low of 1.2888 in 2004 from the previous year's 1.2905, which means an woman during her reproductive years on average would have only 1.29 children.

It does not need much mathematics to figure out that it is necessary for a woman to have 2, and then some margin for unexpected losses during youth, which would normally make the total figure around 2.1 children for developed countries to maintain the population even,. According to demographic analysis, Japan's population will hit its peak in 2006 and then show a steep decrease.

There are a number of analysts who claim that declining population is not necessarily bad for various reasons, but they mostly rely on the assumption that all the wealth accumulated intended to be shared more people will become available at the disposal of the less, decreased number of people. But there are counterarguments to this claim, and it is the ordinary people who fear that after they age, there will be less people to sustain their, and their descendents' quality of life.

Indeed, the pension system, which was reformed only last year with a significant amount of political hassle, assumed Japan's birth rate for 2004 to be 1.32, to bottom out at around 1.3 in 2007, and recover to 1.39 by around 2030. If the actual birthrate remains below these projected levels, it is too obvious that payouts must be lowered, premiums must be raised, or both.

There are a number of reasons cited for this fertility rate decline. One evident is the average age of first marriage, which has constantly been rising through the years. In 2004, it was 29.6 years old for men and 27.8 years for women, recording new highs for both sexes. The increasing number of young people working only part-time is also referred to. As their income would be considerably lower than those with regular jobs, they are not able to have children. But these, some point out, are rather consequences of true causes not yet fully diagnosed.

The government, since a number of years ago, has introduced various measures to lure women to have and raise children. Enhancing public support of child-care centers and requiring employers to allow ample maternity leave, are among many. But the government's efforts have had not much effect, if not flatly unsuccessful.

Some have commented that the trend can not be reversed as women have learned the "rich and luxurious" way of living which they do not intend to give up for the daunting task of raising children. Also, as those women with no children become more visible in the society, younger women might think that to be the norm, a sequence that could turn into a gloomy spiral, if not already has.

While it is essential to keep searching for the true cause of the declining birth rate, and then to find and implement necessary measures, it is now time for Japan to formulate a productive immigration policy, which until now many politicians and bureaucrats have avoided for various reasons.

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