Japan’s birthrate has dropped to a historic level, the lowest since data gathering began in 1899.
That’s what The Japan Times has reported, citing government figures released Friday.
For years, Japan has seen a decline in its population, leading experts and lawmakers to consider the economic and social repercussions.
And on Friday, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimated that 921,000 babies will be born by the end of 2018 — 25,000 fewer than in the previous year.
Birth and death statistics show that the pace of Japan’s population collapse is speeding up, The Japan Times reported.
About 127 million people live in Japan. The population could drop below the 100 million mark by 2049, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.
Not only is Japan expected to enter a long period of population decline, but also its inhabitants are aging out of the workforce. By 2036, one in three people will be elderly, researchers project.
“To help ensure Japan stays on a path of sustained economic growth, we know we must address the birthrate and aging population issues,” Communications and Cultural Affairs Minister Takehiro Shimada told NPR by email.
Shimada said the government launched a new economic policy package in 2017 to address the dilemma. “The plan is designed to promote both supply system innovation,” such as robots, “and human resources development revolution,” a social security system for “not only the elderly and the youth, but also Japan’s working-age generation so they are provided with support for child-rearing and nursing care.”
Amid a shrinking workforce, Japan has already turned to robots for some of its daily needs. They are used in restaurants, stores and banks. The International Monetary Fund stated last year that because of the aging population, robots will be found in “schools, hospitals … and even temples.”
Lawmakers also passed a measure in December that will allow more foreign workers to enter the country, for longer periods of time and, in some cases, with a path toward attaining Japanese citizenship.
Birthrates aren’t just falling in Japan. South Korea has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. Around the globe, the fertility rate fell more than 50 percent, from 4.99 in 1960 to 2.44 by 2016, according to the World Bank.
Japanese researchers found that among unmarried people between the ages of 18 and 34, nearly 70 percent of men and 60 percent of women were not in a relationship, reported The Japan Times.
But that isn’t necessarily why the country is producing fewer babies. A major factor may be a dearth of stable jobs for young people. Since the 1990s, labor laws changed, leading to more part-time and contract work, according to The Atlantic. That could have affected people’s trajectory, building “a class of men who don’t marry and have children because they — and their potential partners — know they can’t afford to.”