Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida spoke in desperate terms about the country’s cratering birth rate in an address to his nation’s parliament on Monday.
“Now or never when it comes to policies regarding births and child-rearing-it is an issue that simply cannot wait any longer,” Prime Minister Kishida said in a speech marking the new parliamentary session. “The number of births dropped below 800,000 last year.”
“Japan is standing on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society,” he added.
For perspective, Japan experienced nearly 2 million births per year throughout the 1970s.
Although the Asian island nation has a population of roughly 125 million, its demographic pyramid is rapidly greying. Only Monaco, the city-state on the French Riviera, has a higher proportion of residents 65 and older.
The rising cost of living and low immigration has hampered Japan’s ability to elevate its lagging birth rate. Barely 3 percent of the country’s population is foreign-born, compared to over a quarter of Americans.
Kishida pledged on Monday to double spending associated with child-related initiatives and announced the creation of a new governmental agency tasked with addressing the issue.
“Focusing attention on policies regarding children and child-rearing is an issue that cannot wait and cannot be postponed.”
Demographers use the measurement of a replacement or fertility rate, the average number of children born to each woman, to evaluate the health of a society. When the fertility rate drops below 2.1, a society begins to shrink.
In 2020, Japan had a fertility rate of 1.34. The same year, a team of researchers projected in the Lancet that Japan’s population would shrink to barely above 50 million by the end of the century.
Japan is among a growing list of East Asian nations that are expected to face harsh demographic headwinds throughout the coming decades.
Last Tuesday, the Chinese government published demographic data showing that the 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.
India is set to become the world’s most populous country in 2023.