Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida declared a dire need for policies tackling the country’s declining birth rate, calling it “now or never.”
“Japan is standing on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society,” Kishida told lawmakers at the opening of this year’s parliamentary session on Monday. “Focusing attention on policies regarding children and child-rearing is an issue that cannot wait and cannot be postposted.”
In recent years, Japan — a population of barely 125 million — has been facing a rapidly declining birth rate. In 2022, the country saw a record low of less than 800,000 births. According to research published by The Lancet in 2020, at the current rate, Japan’s population is expected to fall below 53 million by the end of the century.
To address the issue, Kishida argued to double the government’s fund for child-related programs by June and revealed a plan to create a new Children and Families government agency, which is expected to begin operations in April 2023.
“We must build a child-first social economy to reverse the [low] birthrate,” the prime minister explained.
Although the country’s government has previously attempted to implement similar policies and incentives to encourage childbirth, they so far have been met with failure.
As one of the world’s most expensive places to raise a child, Japan’s falling birth rates have been attributed to increasing living costs, more work and education opportunities for women, greater access to contraception, lack of inclusivity and individual freedom, corporate culture and difficult economic conditions.
Adding to the country’s ongoing crisis, Japan’s life expectancy has significantly risen, reaching a median age of 49.
With one of the oldest populations in the world — second only to Monaco — Japan’s growing senior population signifies a declining number of workers and a possibility of losing a fifth of its population by 2050.
However, despite Japan’s crisis, residents and conservative government officials have remained hostile to immigration.