Japan’s birth rate plunges to new record low; politician blames citizens' lack of 'romantic ability'

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Japan’s birth rate has plunged to a new record low, undermining the country’s initiatives to remedy its aging population.

According to Japan’s health ministry, the total number of births declined to 799,728 in 2022, which is down 5.1% from a year earlier. The birth rate is the lowest since the ministry began record-keeping in 1899, falling to a record low for the seventh consecutive year.

As for the number of deaths, it has risen by 8.9% to 1.58 million for the same time period.

The low fertility rate means a smaller workforce and fewer taxpayers to sustain the country in the years to come.

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Japan, which is the world's third-largest economy, has the highest proportion of elderly citizens globally. The rising cost of caring for its elderly is reportedly draining the nation’s coffers, making it the world’s most indebted country.

"We recognize that the falling birth rate is a critical situation," Yoshihiko Isozaki, a deputy chief cabinet secretary, said in a briefing on Tuesday. "My understanding is that various factors are intricately intertwined, preventing individuals from realizing their hopes for marriage, childbirth and child rearing."

The government has been working to increase the labor force and to support children and their families in efforts to boost the population and economy.

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Japan has encouraged more women to work and has been accepting some immigrants.

The government has reportedly allocated 4.8 trillion yen (approximately $35.3 billion) from the fiscal 2023 budget to a new agency dedicated to children and their families. It will lay out its child and child-rearing policies by June for doubling their respective budgets, according to Isozaki.

However, Narise Ishida, a member of Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) from Mie Prefectural Assembly, suggested that the nation’s plummeting birth and marriage rate is due to the people’s lack of “romantic ability.”

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“The birth rate is not declining because it costs money to have children,” Ishida said during a question-and-answer session at the assembly on Friday, reported The Mainichi. “The problem is that romance has become a taboo subject before marriage.”

He suggested that the government conduct a survey to determine people’s “romantic ability.”

Although Makoto Watanabe, professor of media and communications at Hokkaido Bunkyo University in Sapporo, agreed that young people now lack traditional communication skills, he noted that this generation “communicates very well online and through social media,” according to the South China Morning Post.

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Among my students I see them constantly showing “romantic abilities” through modern technology, which may be why Ishida cannot see it happening. Young people still want to marry, to have a family, to have more children, but when buying a car or a house is so hard because of economic concerns, it’s very difficult to have children.

According to experts, the low fertility rates are due to demanding work cultures, rising costs of living, changing attitudes toward marriage and gender equality and rising disillusionment among younger generations.

Due to the improvement in gender roles in Japan, many women do not feel obligated to get married and raise a child.

Young women are reportedly more likely to get employed than to get married and have children.

In 2020, the enrollment rate of women in four-year-degree colleges increased by 51% since the late 1980s. The labor participation of women aged between 25-29 also rose from 45% in 1970 to 87% in 2020.

Demographic declines are also present in other Asian countries, including South Korea and China.

South Korea beat its own record for the world’s lowest fertility rate, falling to 0.78 children per woman in 2022.

China's population decreased in 2022 for the first time in six decades, according to data released by the National Statistics Bureau last month.