The number of children in Japan has fallen for the 37th straight year in a row, a sign the country’s attempts to offset the country’s severely aging population are failing.
As of April 1, 2018, there were 15.53 million children under the age of 14 in Japan, down 170,000 from the previous year, continuing a downward slide which started in 1981, according to data released by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.
The largest segment was also the oldest, with 3.26 million 12 to 14-year-olds, suggesting the downward trend isn’t going to end any time soon.
Despite attempts by the Shinzo Abe government to encourage Japanese to have more children, only Tokyo reported more children compared to the previous year.
Japan’s total population currently stands at 126 million. Children made up just 12.3% of that figure, compared to 18.9% for the US, 16.8% for China, and 30.8% for India.
According to the Japan Times, the government has been aiming to boost Japan’s total fertility rate – the average number of children each woman has in her lifetime – to 1.8 by the end of 2025 from 1.45 in 2015, through one time cash payments and other incentives.
Japan has been struggling with low birth rates for decades, but unlike many other industrialized countries which have also seen native populations having fewer children, it has not been able to make the numbers up with immigrants.
By 2060, the country’s population is expected to plummet to 86.74 million from its current total of 126.26 million, according to a projection by the Japanese Health Ministry.
With fewer workers paying taxes to support a growing silver population in need of pensions and healthcare services, Japan’s economy is facing an unprecedented challenge.
According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in 2013, the last year for which data was available, foreigners made up only 1.3% of Japan’s population, compared to 7% for the US, or 16.1% for Estonia.
The lack of new workers is heightened by Japan’s woeful levels of gender disparity, a recent OECD report warned. While the ratio of boys to girls is relatively in keeping with most industrialized countries, there is currently a 25% gender pay gap in Japan, the third-widest of all member states, and women are often discouraged from participating in the workforce by a variety of factors including lack of childcare, discrimination, and sexual harassment.
“As Japan’s elderly population is projected to reach nearly three-quarters of the working-age population by 2050, using all available talent in the labor market is key to overcome labor shortages,” the report warned.
“This will require creating better work conditions for youth, incentivizing employment for the elderly, attracting foreign workers and closing gender gaps in job quality to promote the inclusion of women.”
Yoko Wakatsuki reported from Tokyo, Japan. James Griffiths reported from Hong Kong.