Home WorldAsiaJapan Japan Birth Rate Drops Again, Labor Shortage Affects Railway Safety

Japan Birth Rate Drops Again, Labor Shortage Affects Railway Safety

by Amélie Poulain

The latest data shows that the number of newborns in Japan has declined for eight consecutive years and hit a new low in 2023. The number of deaths is higher than the number of births for the 17th consecutive year and is twice the number of newborns. The total population is shrinking naturally, and the labor force is declining yearly, affecting the national economy.

The number of married couples are less than 500,000 In 2023 for the first time, making the low birthrate problem more serious.
(Photo via unsplash.com)

TOKYO, JAPAN (Merxwire) – According to the latest data released by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, the number of newborns in Japan has declined for the eighth consecutive year and hit a record low in 2023. It decreased by 5.1% from 2022 to 758,631 people. The number of deaths has been higher than the number of births for the 17th consecutive year and has reached twice the number of newborns, causing the total population to show a natural shrinkage. This means the production labor force is declining yearly, affecting the national economy.

Data show that the first peak wave of births in Japan was the postwar baby boom from 1947 to 1949, with more than 2.5 million births each year. The peak of the second wave was from 1971 to 1974, with approximately 2 million births per year. By 2023, the number has dropped to about 750,000, a faster decline than experts expected. The number of deaths will reach 1,590,503 in 2023, representing a decrease of 831,872 in the total population, and the working population has declined rapidly.

The declining number of marriages is also one of the reasons for the decline in the number of newborns. In a social climate where self-awareness is rising and women’s independence is improving compared to previous years, marriage is no longer a necessary option. Therefore, the number of married couples in 2023 dropped by 5.9% from 2022 to only 489,281 couples, which is the lowest number since 1933. It is also the first time in the past 90 years that there are less than 500,000 pairs, making the problem of low birthrate more serious.

In addition to basic economic activities, the declining birthrate problem also affects important traffic safety. Half of the 140 regional railways in Japan are undermanned. Take the Takamatsu-Kotohira Electric Railroad, which is used by 30,000 people every day, for example. In recent years, there have been about 20 breakdowns of old-level crossings that cannot be repaired. Because there are no staff to repair it, which makes the breakdown time longer. It seriously affected the safety of people and vehicles. The authorities can only raise wages first, hoping to attract more manpower to devote themselves to railway-related work.

According to the latest official Japanese survey, up to 42% of 18-year-old women born in 2005 will not have children, while more than half of men will not be able to raise children. This data is significantly higher than that of developed advanced countries and represents the changes in Japanese society. The 42% ratio was predicted by this study in the case of low fertility. In the case of medium fertility, the estimated proportion of female infertility is 33.4%. A more optimistic estimate is that the proportion of childless people is 24.6%.

In Japan, “children” are very important in building a social welfare network in old age. It is more difficult for people without relatives to rent a house. Some nursing institutions and hospitals also require family members as guarantors to be admitted or moved in. And a certain proportion of children are still willing to take on the responsibility of their parents in their old age, so having children still has its necessary advantages. But even so, why are there still many young people unwilling to enter marriage and family?

Due to Japan’s traditional family values, women often have to quit their jobs to take care of their children at home.
Therefore they are unwilling to have children. (Photo via unsplash.com)

Because Japan is a country with fewer children out of wedlock, if men and women themselves are not willing to get married, it will also affect the fertility rate. Therefore, the decline in the marriage rate is one of the main factors for the decline in the fertility rate. The proportion of unmarried women aged 25 to 29 increased from 21% in 1975 to 66% in 2020. The proportion of unmarried women aged 30 to 34 jumped from 8% to 39%. The reason for this change in data is that women’s education and economic status have improved, and marriage has become a non-essential option.

The proportion of Japanese women attending college has increased rapidly since the 1980s, and in 2020, more than half of women will be college graduates. The labor force participation rate of women aged 25 to 29 has increased from 45% in 1970 to 87% in 2020, which is quite high. This allows them not to be bound by the traditional society of the past, that is, they become housewives after getting married and having children, but they have more choices.

But does having autonomy mean that you are unwilling to play the role of a wife or mother? This is not the case. The main reason that affects them is that the gender division of labor in the family has not kept pace with the times. In Japanese families, the tradition is still maintained that women are responsible for most of the labor, and men are still quite passive about sharing housework. Therefore, after marriage, women need to bear the burden of housework and childcare, which may even affect their job opportunities and time. Naturally, they will consider not entering into marriage and retaining their financial independence.

Experts analyze that the reason why Japan’s current marriage rate and fertility rate are declining is closely related to male stereotypes. Men are ideal marriage partners if they have a good job, and a good job often means long working hours or business travel time, so there is not much time to take care of children. After having children, there is still a concept that mothers should quit their jobs and stay at home to take care of their children. In this way, women lose their career life and men bear the burden of supporting the family. In the long run, the balance is likely to be lost. Therefore, both men and women will feel the pressure of not being able to have a family.

Even if both men and women agree to maintain economic independence and division of family labor, women do not need to give up their jobs to get married and have children. However, in Japan’s overworked culture with extremely long working hours, it will be difficult for dual-income parents to balance family life. Therefore, scholars suggest that the relevant authorities should not only give priority to childcare subsidies but also change the traditional family roles of men and women, as well as provide a friendlier workplace culture. Only in this way can young men and women change their views on marriage and childcare. Otherwise, by 2065, Japan’s total population will drop by 30%, leaving only about 88 million people, which will have a huge impact on the national economy and labor market.

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