An elderly woman is led to a temple in Tokyo. Japan is aging far faster than any other developed country. Photo: REUTERS file
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Coronavirus pandemic deepens Japan's demographic crisis

36 Comments
By Kiyoshi Takenaka

Tumbling numbers of pregnancies and marriages in Japan during the coronavirus pandemic are likely to intensify a demographic crisis in the rapidly aging nation.

Japan has the most aged society in the world, with more than 35% of its population expected to be 65 and over by 2050, a trend that poses risks for economic growth and straining government finances.

"I think the spread of the coronavirus has many people worried about getting pregnant, giving births and rearing babies," Tetsushi Sakamoto, minister in charge of responses to Japan's declining birthrates, told a news conference.

Recently published official data showed the number of notified pregnancies in the three months to July fell 11.4% from a year earlier, while the number of marriages over the same period dropped 36.9%. The sharp decline in marriages matters because the majority of babies in Japan are born in wedlock.

"This is very serious because negative effects could stay on, with the economic downturn leading to fewer marriages, and then to fewer births," said Hideo Kumano, executive chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

The pandemic has exacerbated a preexisting downward trend in the birthrate, which former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called a"national crisis." The number of births in 2019 was down 5.8% to around 865,000, the lowest annual figure ever.

The Japan Pediatric Association has warned the falling birthrate could be expedited by 10 years because of the pandemic, a trend that could not only wipe out pediatric medicine but have far reaching effects.

The International Monetary Fund has forecast global economic growth of 5.2% in 2021, but expects Japan's growth to be 2.3%. Kumano said depopulation was the major factor in the differing outlooks.

A recent survey by the Nikkei newspaper showed that the majority of 22 economists polled expect that the Japanese economy will not come back to pre-pandemic levels before 2024, indicating a prolonged headwind against getting married.

Policymakers are scrambling to address the crisis, covering fertility treatment with health insurance and doubling the upper limit of a one-off government allowance for newlyweds to 600,000 yen.

"There are various predictions on what will happen if the number of births keeps falling, but one thing is certain. Current systems, including the social security system, will no longer be functional," Masaji Matsuyama, former minister overseeing the issue of declining births, told Reuters. "It will be a crisis in which the very existence of the nation as we know it is at stake."

© Thomson Reuters 2020.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Recently published official data showed the number of notified pregnancies in the three months to July fell 11.4% from a year earlier, while the number of marriages over the same period dropped 36.9%. The sharp decline in marriages matters because the majority of babies in Japan are born in wedlock.

Those are shocking numbers, especially the drop in marriages. I wonder if this is permanent. A society of mostly singles where out of marriage childbirth is discouraged has no long term future.

9 ( +16 / -7 )

We all know what the problem is economy and work ethics. Plus missed policies like 600 000 yen for newly weds.

There ain't be babies if people will have to work 24/7 for some pennies because husband can't make enough to upkeep the family so wives need to go to work as well. Plus 600 000 yen for newlyweds, what that will do if there ain't no jobs.

10 ( +14 / -4 )

There are various predictions on what will happen if the number of births keeps falling, but one thing is certain. Current systems, including the social security system, will no longer be functional," Masaji Matsuyama, former minister overseeing the issue of declining births, told Reuters. "It will be a crisis in which the very existence of the nation as we know it is at stake."

The other thing that is certain is as long as LDP remains in charge nothing more than lip service with some token initiatives and kicking the can down the road will happen.

J- politicians have been talking about this ( and having never ending meetings no doubt ) for the past 3 decades at least . TIJ.

16 ( +17 / -1 )

It has been trending this way for years. It will not suddenly change after Covid is no longer a threat.

Japan Inc needs to raise wages, improve work/life balance, and make child care more readily available and affordable. Otherwise, people just can't afford to have and raise children properly.

19 ( +21 / -2 )

Just like Japan, push the blame on someone else, never taking responsibility for one's own actions.

Yes, the pandemic stinks and is hurting everyone in the world. But Japan was already doing poorly in birthrates long before COVID-19.

Start with looking at the problems the government and companies and their bottom lines create before blaming anything or anyone else.

21 ( +22 / -1 )

There are various predictions on what will happen if the number of births keeps falling, but one thing is certain. Current systems, including the social security system, will no longer be functional," Masaji Matsuyama, former minister overseeing the issue of declining births, told Reuters. "It will be a crisis in which the very existence of the nation as we know it is at stake."

He's right.

11 ( +14 / -3 )

Just like Japan, push the blame on someone else, never taking responsibility for one's own actions.

Yes, the pandemic stinks and is hurting everyone in the world. But Japan was already doing poorly in birthrates long before COVID-19.

Start with looking at the problems the government and companies and their bottom lines create before blaming anything or anyone else.

exactly. well said!

12 ( +14 / -2 )

Well anyways, Japan is leading the way to the abyss of human civilization and other countries are sure to follow. I do feel sorry however for many young persons who work(ed) in the marriage event and related industries. These must be some very hard times.

-4 ( +9 / -13 )

Good. Keep the birthrates down in all countries. It will have short term problems but our species is a pestilence.

We have wrecked this planet. The fewer the better.

5 ( +18 / -13 )

I once again have to remind people that Japan's birth rate is so low not because Japanese people are anti-sex. The reason is the consistent trend of declining living standard and wealth in the past decades due to the neoconservative policies or Reaganism. Not just Japan, the US and EU's birth rates are exceptionally low as Japan but they prevent the total demographic collapse through immigration.

Shinzo Abe has an outside appearance of a ultraconservative but he is really a neoliberal inside. He has lifted the immigration barrier to allow foreigners becoming residents and citizens. Mostly favorable for Chinese and Vietnamese. Japan's demographic crisis can be stalled quite soon as long as the Chinese and Vietnamese population keep rising in Japan. Suga is determined to uphold this legacy of Shinzo Abe.

10 ( +19 / -9 )

This is not a "crisis". Rich nations, especially those with huge populations in a tiny space like Japan, cannot and should not keep growing. These couples are doing nothing wrong by not having more children.

A reduced population is great for the environment, will reduce CO2 emissions, and make getting trains, hotel bookings, hospital rooms etc much easier for everyone. Endless growth is not sustainable, and quality of life will be better with half the population.

0 ( +15 / -15 )

Put your phone down and procreate!

6 ( +14 / -8 )

He can talk all he wants, but thanks to the "Go to" campaign weddings here in Okinawa have been experiencing a mini-boom! Okinawa had over 17,000 "resort weddings" in 2019, and while COVID put a dent in those numbers earlier this year, many resorts and hotels are seeing a spike in weddings that are on par with yearly averages, with the exception of those from overseas.

One resort hotel, had 10 different weddings scheduled for one Saturday October 10th.

And yeah we STILL have the worst numbers per 100,000 people for corona infections in the entire country, DOUBLE that of Tokyo. But folks here are like everything else that really matters, apathetic!

1 ( +5 / -4 )

stop dreaming, soon there will be more suicides than births. the GOV just only worry about the decrease of tax payers!!! what is the main reason for making children???

4 ( +7 / -3 )

"It will be a crisis in which the very existence of the nation as we know it is at stake."

I've been hearing about this "crisis" for nearly 20 years now. It's getting really old.

To fund social security in Japan, you print money, match up the surplus yen created with bonds and then get the central bank to buy the bonds. Investors buy the rest --at yields of nearly zero. LOL.

Think that's crazy? Well that's exactly what Japan has been doing, allowing it to afford things guy like this say are "unaffordable." And Japan is doing pretty well, compared to the rest of the world, in terms of inflation, employment, infrastructure, etc.

-1 ( +8 / -9 )

Government policies aimed at maintaining/increasing the price of land/housing certainly play a big role in the trend toward population extinction. But then again, 90% of the wealth of the elite in Japan is in land. And they come first.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

There are multiple reasons for birth rates dropping first 2 family system where grandparents help out with the children does not exist, second divorce rate has climbed and most times the woman is held holding the bag where the man moves on does not support the children and or if they do the Court gives very little in support. For a man making 60 thousand dollars pays on average for 2 children 6 hundred a month that is all, folks, and if he stops there are no consequences what-so-ever the woman would have to chase him down and jump through lots of legal hoops.

Lastly, there are the economic effects, men are making less these days and women are making more, and so, many women don't want to be tied down they enjoy their freedom.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

"The Japan Pediatric Association has warned the falling birthrate could be expedited by 10 years because of the pandemic, a trend that could not only wipe out pediatric medicine but have far reaching effects."

Wipe out pediatric medicine? Talk about a gross, inane and self-serving overstatement!

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I'm gonna call fake news on this, my colleagues in Sagamihara all have buns in the oven, happy times ahead thanks to covid, they stayed home and did the job

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

...  that poses risks for economic growth 

Well, all evidence shows that economic growth and the destruction it entails poses the greatest risk to economic growth. But this narative doesn't sit well with the establishment.

So lets get more babies to keep the consumer machine working.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The government should do more to help.

The same government who signed the Plaza Accord and crippled Japan's economy, is responsible for all this issues affecting us today.

Can you imagine a Japan which never Signed the Plaza Accord?

Japan would be an economy 3x bigger at $15 Trillion compared to $5 Trillon which we have been stuck at for decades!

That's the money Japanese need to buy homes, to buy a car, to feel confident about marriage, about starting a family, about providing all the necessary needs to the family.

-Fact. Birth rate went down after Plaza Accord.

-Suicide Rates went up after Plaza Accord.

It's been like this for decades after Plaza Accord.

Anyone cares about this disaster which we signed willingly? No the answer is No.

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

divorce rate has climbed and most times the woman is held holding the bag where the man moves on does not support the children and or if they do the Court gives very little in support. For a man making 60 thousand dollars pays on average for 2 children 6 hundred a month that is all, folks, and if he stops there are no consequences what-so-ever the woman would have to chase him down and jump through lots of legal hoops.

Why should a man pay child support if his ex or the courts don't give him visitation rights? I'm barely seeing my kids once a month and I'm paying 5 hundred a month. You can't have it both ways. More money AND kids kept away from father.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

CCP / 1

Japan / 0

Covid-19/Pandemic.

This article is exactly what a communist regime wants to hear from an attack report.

-7 ( +0 / -7 )

Japan politicians saw this coming. First the system does not want to change. Women are suppose to go to school find a job, marry a co-worker and then quit and become a house wife. Once the couple marries and she quits her job the employer gives the husband more salary because now he is a salary man. It is the mind set of the Japanese people until they get out of the mind set of perceived roles only then will things change. Women have certain expectation of the type of men they want to marry and the men have the expectation of having this beautiful wife whom he met at work, once the knot is tied and the first baby comes she is no longer interested in him this is the cycle sex is only to have children and if there is no sex their is no children so its obvious Japan is becoming a sexless society and if their is sex its only for entertainment a so called hookup, with no strings attached!! Covid has nothing to do with this, its the mind set of the people.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

 one thing is certain. Current systems, including the social security system, will no longer be functional," 

Japan’s massive public debts before the crisis were telling us that, but if people wake up to these risks then that’ll be one good thing about coronavirus.

he is really a neoliberal inside

Abe’s a mixed bag perhaps, but someone who spends tax payer money to distribute crappy masks to the entire population (and deliver them late and if poor quality) is my idea of a central planning socialist rather than a “neoliberal”.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Coronavirus pandemic deepens Japan's demographic crisis

No, it does not. The demographic problem is precedes Corona and will be there after Corona. The article is pure speculation by the writer.

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

Japanese are electing those useless politicians. Nothin will change and the blame is on them.

Society is happy. From Ashley above comment :

Lastly, there are the economic effects, men are making less these days and women are making more, and so, many women don't want to be tied down they enjoy their freedom.

This has been international trend not only in Japan for 40 or more years. If you don't give social respect and advantages to family compare to singles, what do you expect outside everyone remaining single ?

This trend has been aggravated in Japan by useless social norms and work obligations, that Japanese don't even blame and without realizing they will hit one day a wall.

I al just waiting to see what will happen.

By the way a 11% drop in births is huge and with dire consequences in less than 20 years time now.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

No, it does not. The demographic problem is precedes Corona and will be there after Corona. The article is pure speculation by the writer.

Its not speculation, the article cites data which clearly show a sharp drop in both pregnancies and marriages since the pandemic started. Also, the article doesn’t say the pandemic caused the demographic problem, but merely that it exacerbates the already existing problem.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

"Why should a man pay child support if his ex or the courts don't give him visitation rights? I'm barely seeing my kids once a month and I'm paying 5 hundred a month. You can't have it both ways. More money AND kids kept away from father."

Well said. More stories like this...

3 ( +3 / -0 )

What ever is new ???

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"Why should a man pay child support if his ex or the courts don't give him visitation rights? I'm barely seeing my kids once a month and I'm paying 5 hundred a month."

Child support isn't a fee to see your kids. It's to provide for the children you made. There's the whole concept of "responsibility" for your "actions".

Whether you should have visitation rights is a separate argument altogether. I'm of the opinion that Japan doesn't place enough emphasis on giving parents access to their children, and I'm extremely sympathetic to any mentally competent parent who doesn't have access to their children.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Japan is leading the way to the abyss of human civilization

Japan has survived many things in history, earthquakes, tsunamis, invasions, civil wars, pandemics, famines, 2 world wars, 2 A-Bombs.. Surely they will find some solution, first any of our pathetic countries collapse than Japan before.

Better grab a tissue and cut the drama..

Good. Keep the birthrates down in all countries. It will have short term problems but our species is a pestilence.

We have wrecked this planet. The fewer the better.

1000 % AGREE !!.. Better cats than people !!..

LOOOOOOOOL !!..

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

There are billions of people already living on this planet who would happily move to Japan and make a life there. Japan should start inviting more of these people to its shores and make it much quicker and easier for law abiding foreigners already working in Japan to obtain permanent residency. That would solve the population crisis. Much better than trying to bribe people to have children that they dont really want.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Ban mobile phones and then the Japanese might start to function more in the real world...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

With 60% of the work force on short term or part time contracts for pittance salaries, which have just been reduced, there should be no surprise people are not marrying or having babies. Most singles are struggling to support themselves better less start a family.

Japanese economic structure is the reverse Robyn Hood. Rob the poor and give to the rich.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Most Japanese still celebrate their marriages with big social events, so they are naturally going to be down. Nobody wants a socially distanced wedding and photos in masks.

The big-picture question it poses is whether short but extreme lockdowns aimed at eradicating Covid-19 would be worth it if they can get things back to normal faster. So long as Covid-19 is around, even in the background as it is in Japan now, many life-affirming and/or economy-boosting activities are going to be suppressed. For people wanting to get married or have children or find a job as a graduate, the clock is ticking. Their opportunity may disappear.

You can read Hideo Kumano's research in Japanese on the Dai-Ichi website. The guy puts out some good stuff.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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