The annual number of babies born in Japan fell below 1 million for the first time in 2016, while over 1.3 million people died.  This resulted in the largest population decline on record according to a government survey released on Friday. 

The country’s total fertility rate was 1.44 per women, down 0.01 point.  As of October 1 2016, there were 126.93 million people in Japan, down 162,000 from a year earlier and the sixth straight year in which the population declined.

These figures are worrying for Japanese society.  Fewer young people means fewer workers to support the growing number of retirees and strains the pension and health care system.  Empty houses are also a growing problem in some areas.

The government aims to increase the fertility rate to 1.8 by the end of 2025 and maintain the population at around 100 million people in 2060.  Other measures include keeping older workers in their jobs for longer, encouraging companies to invest in automation and trying to encourage families to have more children.  Increased immigration is also suggested by some.

Unfortunately, efforts to encourage mothers to have more children are not having much effect.  The latest figures show that Japanese mothers are getting older and women choosing to marry much later in life after establishing careers contributes to the lack of births.  There were 13,911 fewer births to women in their 20s in 2016 and 14,962 fewer births to women in their 30s.  However, there were 1,009 more births to women in their 40s.

Japan is a society that needs to question how to better show that it values motherhood, babies and children as important, and a warning for all countries to reflect on.  It is also a country that needs to consider its work/life/family balance in order to better support families and parenthood, amid record cases of 'death by overwork'.   

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of Demography Is Destiny. 

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Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...