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According to a government report by Japan, the Japanese population will by 2060 only be 87 million, down one third from the current level of 128 million people. It means that within 1000 years, the Japanese could be faced with extinction, according to researchers at Tohoku University Graduate School of Economics in Sendai. Therefore, if the number of children born keeps declining, Japan may celebrate “Kids Day 5/5/3011 with only one child,” said Hiroshi Yoshida, a professor at Tohoku University. But what is the fundamental cause behind this decline?
Across developed countries, there is a general trend among women that they keep working more and marrying later. There are generally three possible reasons why the desire to have children is diminishing: financial worries, employment problems, and lack of family support. Meanwhile, financial worries seem to affect Japan the most as many Japanese men prefer to stay single because of economic difficulties. French newspaper La Croix mentioned that due to economic difficulties, many Japanese men are afraid of the prospect of getting married. This situation leads to increased rates of singles and a decline in birth rate in Japan. The phenomenon of an aging population is now accelerating with people over 65 years of age amounting to 22.9% of the Japanese population. A new Japanese government survey which was conducted by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (NIPSSR) showed that about 61% of single men aged 18 to 34 have no girlfriend and 45% of women are unmarried.
Notably, many people cannot marry even if they want to because of the weak financial situation. According to La Croix, this situation is a consequence of the speculative bubble in Japan of the 1990s and the prolonged economic crisis after that. One expert said, “Many young employees lost their long-term labor contract. Therefore, many people believe that marriage is too risky”. Another reason is that the Japanese society is still emphasizing a lot on the importance of the men earning the household income and the role of okusan, meaning “person in the back of the house,” which reflects the image of the Japanese wives staying at home.
In addition, many women want to find a husband that has a stable job and good income to ensure the material life of a family. However, it is not easy to find such a man with national economic conditions like this. At the same time, having a child out of wedlock is considered a taboo in Japanese society, so the number of these children accounts for is only 2%. In contrast to reproductive problems, the average life expectancy of Japanese people is up to 83 years, leaving Japan with the world’s oldest population. It also takes a lot of money to raise a child and many women are afraid of losing their job during pregnancy. According to Dr Kuniko Inoguchi, former minister of Social Affairs and Gender Balance, about 70% of pregnant women in small and medium enterprises quit their job and if they return to work, so things can be very difficult to balance.
The next hurdle is raising children. “Families used to live with all the generations together,” said one Tokyo pensioner. “That was good for everybody, as there were more people around to provide support.” In rural areas, this is common; birth rates are higher than the national average. But many couples who live in a city far from their relatives lack the family support they often need when a baby is born. They are also too busy with their work to perform the responsibilities of parents to child. So, many Japanese couples decide to have only one child.
In recent years, the Japanese government has worked hard to introduce family-friendly policies to help young families. There are now more day care places available for children of working mothers. Primary schools are running after-school programs for children who have busy parents. There is a desire to stifle the current development, but it may take a generation or two to match tradition with modern needs. Therefore, it is encouraged of the Japanese Government to introduce more policies to improve the birth rate.