As Japan's population declines, the government is incentivizing people to have more children. Photo: iStock
As Japan's population declines, the government is incentivizing people to have more children. Photo: iStock

Japan suffered the largest natural population decline in its history in 2018, according to government statistics.

With 921,000 births, Japan has posted the lowest birth rate since the country began keeping track in 1899 – coming in below 1 million for the third consecutive year.

The number of deaths in 2018 also hit a postwar record high of 1.369 million, which means there was a total natural population decline of 448,000.

The country’s demographic timebomb is, however, not a new development. Japan has had one of the lowest birth rates of the developed world for years, with deaths far outpacing births, causing its population to decline for the ninth straight year in 2018.

According to international demographic standards, Japan is a “super-aged” nation (more than 20% of its population is older than 65). The country’s total population stands at 124 million, but by 2065, it is expected to drop to around 88 million.

Japanese people have an enviable life expectancy – 87.2 years for women and 81.01 years for men – which experts attribute to regular medical examinations, universal healthcare and Japan’s traditional low-fat diet.

Japan has the highest proportion of older people – those aged 65 and over – in the world, followed by Italy, Portugal and Germany. The number of centenarians rose to 69,785 in September, with women making up 88% of the total.

The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in Tokyo estimated that more than 35% of Japanese will be aged 65 or over by 2040.

The growing number of elderly people is expected to put unprecedented strain on health and welfare services in the decades to come. Some of those costs will be met by a controversial increase in the sales tax, from 8% to 10%, next October.

In an effort to reverse this alarming demographic trend, the government is incentivizing people to have more children by allocating 2 trillion yen ($18 billion) for the expansion of free preschool for children between age 3 and 5, as well as for children age 2 and under from low-income families. The government also aims to reduce wait times at daycare centers.

Japan’s falling population means the per-capita debt borne by its citizens will dramatically increase in the coming years, making it more and more difficult to pay back.

Fortunately, the Bank of Japan has apparently resigned itself to monetizing the country’s debt for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, to address the worst labour shortage in decades, Japan’s parliament has approved an immigration bill that will pave the way for the arrival of hundreds of thousands of blue-collar workers.

– with reporting by CNN and The Guardian

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