No more boomers: Japan’s record low fertility rate

According to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the had only 864,000 ne birth this year. It was the first-time Japan has less than 900,000 new birth since 1975.

The number represents a 5.9% decrease from the slightly above 900,000 births last year. The government estimated that the deaths will be around 1.3 million, showing that half a million more death than born occurred in 2019. According to a CNN news article, the deaths in 2019 also hit the postwar record high.

The same CNN news article pointed out that “Japan is a ‘super-aged’ nation, meaning more than 20% of its population is older than 65 years old. […]The country’s total population stood at 124 million in 2018 — but by 2065 it is expected to have dropped to about 88 million.” The declining trend started a decade ago but the gap between death and birth widen year by year. This could lead to concerning consequences to the country’s economy, for example, it will but for burden on welfare finances to support snowballing costs of supporting the gaining population.

According to an article by Bloomberg, population growth is vital for the world economy because it means “more worker to build homes and produce goods, more consumers to buy things and spark innovation, and more citizens to pay taxes and attract trade.

The global rate of replacement is 2.1 children per woman. Since in the 1960s, the fertility rate was 5 birth per woman, which was the last wave of baby boom. Many developed countries are struggling from population growth. Therefore, different countries have different policies to encourage births or compensate the declining population. In the United States and some parts of Western Europe, they loosen up immigration policies to make up the loss. China has altered the one-child policy to control the growth of the population.

Japan’s solution for the declining population is providing a 2 trillion yen (18 billion USD) spending package to expand free preschool for children aged 3 to 5 – and for children aged 2 and under from low-income families. However, this method was implemented in 2017, the number of births is still decreasing. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe aims to prevent the population dropping below 100 million by 2060 does not seem too efficient.

Other countries have different methods to encourage population growth. For example, the CNN article mentions that South Korea government lowered maximum working hours in 2018 and educate the public about the declining ferity rate and its economic consequence as a motivator.

Many people argue that the inequality between men and women is the main contributing factor for the low rate. However, in Bloomberg’s article it shows that women in France, one of the most gender equal countries, has 99% literacy rate for women and female’s earning in France are 72% of men’s. According to an interview with Celine Grislain, who works at the Ministry of Health in Paris. She rarely feels discriminated by the employers due to her pregnancy. Yet, with all the social aspects secured, the number of births still declines over the years in France. In 2017, France’s fertility rate was 1.9, which falls below the world’s average replacement rate. Thus, even more equality it still does not encourage births. Then what can a country do to increase birth and still maintain the economic growth of the country?

Even though population is a crucial factor to a country’s economic growth, Bloomberg’s article argues that “population is just one of three factors influencing national economies”. The other factors are employment rate and labour productivity. The article argues that more than 90% of China’s potential growth in 2017 came from productivity increases. On the other hand, the article pinpointed that countries like France “stands out for balancing increased productivity and population with higher employment, likely boosted by a healthy influx of working-age immigrants and its generous labor benefits.” In other words, the declining birth rate is not the end of the world, there are still many ways to help the economic growth.

However, declining population does not only affect the economic aspect of the country, the loss of cultural identity due to immigration and the lack of Japanese descendent is also concerning. Can technology help the world to maintain the fertility rate so human will not be distinct in the future? This is a question for another time.