Japan has been recording the number of births every year since 1899 and they have never recorded less than 1 million births in a year. Except for 2016. Last year, a historic low 981,000 births were recorded and there are no signs of improvement.
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Japan’s fertility rate is 1.41 births per woman. Sociologists have found that a population stays steady at 2.1 births per woman, and any lower will result in population decline. At Japan’s current rate, the nation’s population will fall to 87 million by 2065, with 40% of the population being over 65 years of age.
This statistic has the Japanese government scrambling with what they call a “demographic time bomb.” The high number of seniors will cripple Japan’s healthcare and social security, as there will be too many people taking out of the system.
This crisis has led the government to enact policies to encourage younger people to start families. The biggest challenge is trying to address their toxic work culture, which values overwork and loyalty to the company. It’s common for workers to put in 80 hours of overtime a month, which severely damages social life.
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In fact, 70% of unmarried men and 60% of unmarried women are not in a relationship. Many young people are prioritizing careers over families, despite 86% of men and 89% of women wanting to get married someday.
The problem is that Japan’s current work culture doesn’t value the raising of a family. Japan only offers 14 weeks of maternity leave at 60% pay. Fathers get no time off to spend with their newborns.
Traditionally, it’s expected for a mother to leave the workforce upon giving birth, which has lead more women to focus on their careers instead of starting a family.
Some political scientists believe that Japan would benefit by subsidizing the cost to workplaces for hiring women, which would encourage workplaces to hire mothers and to offer better maternity leave. Especially in Japan’s shrinking economy, there is no current benefit for a woman to give birth while working on their profession.
Image via The Japan Times
Japan is not the only country suffering from a declining birthrate: The United States, Denmark, China, and Singapore are facing the same issue. The difference is that these countries encourage immigration to make up for the declining domestic workforce, which is something Japan is resistant to.
Prime Minister Abe hopes that Japan’s birth rate will increase to 1.8 births per woman by 2025. Along with encouraging lower work weeks and decreased overtime, the government has sponsored speed-dating events, proposed a tax break discouraging married women to make more than 1.03 million yen ($10,000) a year, and offering workshops that teach men about fatherhood.