By Maria Roldan
Tokyo (EFE).- Births in Japan reached a new low in 2022, falling below 800,000 for the first time, accelerating a demographic challenge to which the government wants to respond with economic measures many experts consider insufficient.
The archipelago is “at a limit moment” regarding its sustainability, said Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in his opening speech of the current parliamentary session, in which he said the birth rate would be “a priority issue.”
The fertility rate in the country stands at 1.3 children per woman, similar to those of other neighboring countries and in line with other great powers, but far from the repopulation rate which generates special alarm when observing its demographic pyramid .
The population under 15 years of age is at a record low of 11.7 percent compared to a growing number of people over 65 years of age, 29 percent, which paints a dark horizon for the future of the country.
To tackle this situation, the government is preparing more financial aid for couples who want to have children and which will be presented in June.
One of the first known measures is to raise the subsidy the government currently offers to pregnant women to give birth by 19 percent, up to JPY 500,000 (about $ 3,700), to contribute to the high costs of childbirth in the country. Japan’s social security only partially covers these expenses.
Kishida also plans to double the budget for raising children until it reaches 4 percent of the national gross domestic product, although it is unknown how this increase will be financed.
The central Administration currently offers a subsidy of up to 15,000 yen (about 100 euros) per month per child to families with limited income, in addition to other local programs dependent on each municipality.
“The worsening of employment is the main cause” of the drop in birth rates, Takumi Fujinami, an economist at the Japan Research Institute, told EFE.
“Salaries have barely risen in Japan in the last 30 years. The income of the elderly is stable and that of the young falls the younger they are. It is important to change this. The salary is falling more than necessary to complement the aid that are given for the upbringing of children,” he said.
Analysts said the government’s financial approach will not be enough to deliver results. Although the economic component is the main stumbling block for young people when it comes to getting married and having children, the aid does not solve the social issues that encourage this trend.
Wage stagnation has been exacerbated by the proliferation of temporary contracts, cheaper for companies than permanent ones, causing “a negative vision of the future” in the new generations, the economist said.
Added to this is the gender gap. The care of the children and of the home still falls mainly on women and their jobs are more precarious.
There are also several factors that the conservative governing coalition is reluctant to assess, such as legislation and protection of sexual minorities – Japan is the only G7 country that has not legalized homosexual marriage – or immigration.
“I think it’s important to create a better, kinder and fair environment for various ways of living and being,” as well as working in mental health, said Saori Sakamoto, from Japan’s National Institute for Population Research and Social Security.
“Unless there is a major societal transformation where people can look forward to a generally better future, there may not be much change in family-building attitudes and behavior and therefore we may not see an increase in the fertility and marriage rates,” he said.
Marriage is closely linked to the birth rate in Japan. Almost 98 percent of births are to married couples, but a growing number of young people have no interest in getting married.
Japan, where the view of the family “is very conservative,” said Fujinami, lacks the conditions and legislation to protect children born out of wedlock, which is on the rise in other countries.
Single mothers also often face many stigmas, both social and economic, and often fall into poverty.
In terms of immigration, the engine of birth in other countries, the Japanese archipelago also continues to lag behind despite the notable influx of foreigners in the last decade.
Japan had 2.76 million residents of foreign nationality in 2021 (latest available data), or 2.2 percent of its population. The percentage is far from the average of 10.6 percent in OECD countries. EFE