Japan on ‘verge’ of societal collapse

Japan on ‘verge’ of societal collapse as by 2050, it could lose a fifth of current population. According to official estimates, birth in Japan plunged to a new record low last year, dropping below 800,000 for the first time.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the country, which has a population of 125 million, must take urgent steps to tackle the declining birth rate, declaring it a “now or never” moment for one of the world’s oldest societies.

Kishida said at a January 23 special address to the National Diet, the country’s legislature: “Japan is standing on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society”.

The median age in Japan is 49, the highest in the world behind only the tiny city-state of Monaco. Demographers say that, by 2050, Japan could lose a fifth of its current population. Japan also has one of the highest life expectancies in the world; in 2020, nearly one in 1,500 people in Japan were age 100 or older, according to government data.

These trends have driven a growing demographic crisis, with a rapidly aging society, a shrinking workforce and not enough young people to fill the gaps in the stagnating economy.

Experts point to several factors behind the low birth rate. The country’s high cost of living, limited space and lack of child care support in cities make it difficult to raise children, meaning fewer couples are having kids. Urban couples are also often far from extended family who could help provide support.

Attitudes toward marriage and starting families have also shifted in recent years, with more couples putting off both during the pandemic.

Some point to the pessimism young people in Japan holds toward the future, many frustrated with work pressure and economic stagnation.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he would submit plans to double the budget for child-related policies by June 2023, and that a new Children and Families government agency to oversee the issue would be set up in April.

“Focusing attention on policies regarding children and child-rearing is an issue that cannot wait and cannot be postponed”, Kishida said.

Japan is the third-most-expensive country globally to raise a child, according to YuWa Population Research, behind only China and South Korea.

Japan’s economy has stalled since its asset bubble burst in the early 1990s. The country’s GDP growth slowed from 4.9 percent in 1990 to 0.3 percent in 2019, according to the World Bank. Meanwhile, the average real annual household income declined from 6.59 million yen ($50,600) in 1995 to 5.64 million yen (US$43,300) in 2020, according to 2021 data from the country’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

South Korea recently broke its own record for the world’s lowest fertility rate, with data from November 2022 showing a South Korean woman will have an average of 0.79 children in her lifetime – far below the 2.1 needed to maintain a stable population. Japan’s fertility rate stands at 1.3, while the United States is at 1.6.

During second week of January 2023, the Chinese government published demographic data showing that country’s population had declined over the previous year, for the first time in six decades. The news surprised many academics who projected that China would not experience such a precipitous drop for another decade.

“I don’t think there is a single country that has gone as low as China in terms of fertility rate and then bounced back to the replacement rate”, Philip O’Keefe, a professor at the University of California, Irvine and demography expert, told the New York Times.

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