Japan must save its falling birth rate ‘now or never,’ PM Kishida says


Tokyo
CNN

Japan’s prime minister issued a stark warning on Monday about the country’s population crisis, saying it was “on the brink of being unable to maintain social functions” due to falling birth rates.

In a speech to lawmakers, Fumio Kishida said it was a case of solving the issue “now or never” and “it simply cannot wait any longer.”

The Prime Minister said: “Thinking about the stability and inclusiveness of our country’s economy and society, we place the support of parenting as our most important policy.

Kishida added that he wants the government to double spending on children’s programs and that a new government agency will be created in April to focus on the issue.

Japan has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, with the health ministry predicting the country will record fewer than 800,000 births in 2022 for the first time since records began in 1899.

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The country also has one of the highest life expectancies in the world. In 2020, roughly one in 1,500 people in Japan was 100 years old or older, according to government data.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivers a political speech on January 23, 2023 in Tokyo.

These trends are leading to a growing demographic crisis, with a rapidly aging population, a shrinking workforce, and not enough young people to fill the gaps in a stagnant economy.

Experts point to several factors in reducing the birth rate. The country’s high cost of living, limited space and a lack of child support in cities make raising children difficult, meaning fewer couples are having children. Urban couples are also often far from extended families who can help.

Attitudes toward marriage and starting a family have also changed in recent years, with more couples postponing both during the pandemic.

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Some point to the pessimism of Japanese youth about the future, many of whom are frustrated by the pressure of work and the economic recession.

Japan’s economy has stagnated since its asset bubble burst in the early 1990s. According to the World Bank report, the country’s GDP growth decreased from 4.9% in 1990 to 0.3% in 2019. Meanwhile, the average real annual household income fell from 6.59 million yen ($50,600) in 1995 to 5.64 million yen ($43,300) in 2021, according to data from the country’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in 2021. .

The government has launched various initiatives to combat population decline over the past few decades, including new policies to increase childcare services and improve housing facilities for families with children. Some rural towns have even paid couples who live there to have children.

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Demographic changes in other parts of East Asia are also worrying.

South Korea recently broke its record for the lowest fertility rate in the world, with November 2022 data showing that a South Korean woman will have an average of 0.79 children in her lifetime, far below the 2.1 needed to maintain The population is stable. Japan’s fertility rate is 1.3 compared to the US’s 1.6.

Meanwhile, China’s population will shrink in 2022 for the first time since the 1960s, adding to its woes as it struggles to recover from the pandemic. The last time its population declined was in 1961, during a famine that killed tens of millions across the country.

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