PM Kishida vows to fix Japan’s declining birth rate: Here’s why it is a 'now or never' situation

Japan is struggling with a rapidly declining birth rate, which PM Fumio Kishida has vowed to address. He stated that there is a pressing need to establish policies and measures that prioritise children and support child-rearing to create a "children-first economic society" and turn the birth rate around. While the future of Japan's population remains uncertain, it is likely that the government will continue to implement policies aimed at addressing the issue.

Updated Jan 28, 2023 | 08:16 AM IST

Japan has recorded a record low number of births, with fewer than 800,000 births in 2021, which is eight years ahead of projections.

Photo : AP
Population is a problem plaguing Japan in recent years. It is not the problem of plenty, but that of paucity.
The country is battling with a rapidly declining birth rate — a problem that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, on Monday, has vowed to fix. “We cannot waste any time on the policies for children and childrearing support. We must establish a children-first economic society and turn around the birth rate,” Kishida reportedly said. The future of Japan's population remains uncertain, but it is likely that the government will continue to implement policies aimed at addressing the issue.
Tokyo has been taking measures to address its declining birth rate, such as offering financial incentives for having children and increasing access to child care. However, factors such as a lack of affordable housing, long working hours, and a traditional societal expectation for women to prioritize their careers over starting a family have contributed to the country's low birth rate.

Why are the numbers so low?

Japan's population has been declining for the past 14 years, with data from Nikkei Asia showing that it peaked in 2008 at 128 million. The country's birth rate is at 1.3 children per woman, which is significantly lower than the 2.1 required to sustain its current population. Projections estimate that by 2060, Japan's population of 125 million will shrink to 86.7 million. Additionally, Japan has a high proportion of elderly citizens, with 29% of the population being aged 65 and above, and a median age of 49, the second highest in the world after Monaco. The government has been implementing policies to address the population decline, but the future of Japan's population remains uncertain.
The population decline is further highlighted by the fact that the median age in the country is significantly higher than the global average, which typically ranges between 30 and 40. Furthermore, Japan is considered one of the most expensive countries in the world to raise children, with research from YuWa Population indicating that it is the third most costly. The low birth rate in Japan has reached a new low, with the number of births in 2021 dropping below 800,000, according to This is the lowest number ever recorded, and it happened nearly a decade earlier than the government had predicted, according to Deutsche Welle (DW) — the German public, state-owned international broadcaster.

Again, what’s the core issue?

Japan's high cost of living and slow wage growth have been cited as reasons for the country's declining birth rate, despite government subsidies. According to BBC, an increasing number of women choosing to work and study, as well as greater access to contraception, also contribute to the trend. The conservative government has been criticized for not doing enough to make society more inclusive for children, women, and minorities. It's worth noting that birth rates are slowing in many countries around the world, including in Japan's neighboring countries, due to factors such as rising living costs, more women entering the workforce, and people choosing to have children later in life. The official data last week showed that China's population also shrank in 2022, for the first time in more than six decades.

So what?

The combination of a declining and ageing population in Japan has significant economic, social, and national security implications. According to Nikkei Asia, the ageing population will put a strain on the country's healthcare and social security systems. The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare is expected to make significant changes to the country's pension scheme, including an increase in fees for the national healthcare system and additional fees for medical treatment. Haruko Noguchi, a specialist in the economics of healthcare at Waesda University in Tokyo, said that Japan's healthcare system is currently one of the fairest in the world, but it may not be sustainable in the long term. The "baby boomers" are reaching retirement age, and the current system for funding healthcare may not be able to keep up with the growing demand from the ageing population.
According to DW, the final decision on changes to the pension scheme will be made in 2024. Japan's population decline also poses a challenge for companies looking to hire new talent, as the pool of young workers is shrinking. Furthermore, Japan's declining population also has national security implications. Japan has recently announced plans to move away from its post-war principle of self-defence only, in light of the growing threat from China. However, the country is struggling to meet its recruitment goals for its defence forces, as the population decline limits the number of potential soldiers.

What now? What’s the way ahead and what is Japan doing about it?

In January, the Japanese government offered families 1 million yen (approx. Rs 6.26 lakh) per child to move out of greater Tokyo, in an effort to increase the population of those regions. This offer was a significant increase from the previous amount of 300,000 yen (approx. Rs 1.87 lakh) that was being offered earlier.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged to increase financial support for families with children, including more scholarships, and has said that he will develop a set of measures of "different dimensions." He announced plans to double the budget for relevant policies by June and to establish a new agency for children and family affairs in April.
Additionally, Kishida aims to eventually double the government's spending on child-related programs. However, experts say that these efforts to encourage people to have more children have had a limited impact so far, despite subsidies for pregnancy, childbirth, and child care. They suggest that the government needs to focus on removing the difficulties that discourage young people from starting families, rather than just offering subsidies for those who already have children. Some experts also suggest that Japan needs to relax its strict immigration policies — a model that has served Canada well.
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