Whenever January rolls around, I know I’ll be inundated with news reporting on how Japan’s birth rate crisis has worsened. This is because of Seijin no Hi, the Coming of Age Day holiday, when Japan’s new 20-year-olds get dressed up in gorgeous kimonos and smart suits and celebrate becoming official adult members of society. Unsurprisingly, the 2023 numbers were very bleak, with just 341,000 new adults.
How Low Has Japan’s Birth Rate Fallen?
Japan’s population peaked in 2010 at 128.1 million people, as deaths started to outstrip births. In 2022 the number of births fell below 800,000 for the first time ever, to just 773,000. This level was reached 11 years faster than the Japanese government had previously predicted.
At the current rate, Japan’s population is expected to fall to 106 million by 2050 and 75 million by 2100. Japan’s population in the year 3000 will be just…500 people. And I’ll bet they’ll still be paying animators terrible salaries.
As I wrote in my long post on understanding Japan’s population challenges through anime memes, the issue of why Japan’s birth rate is falling is complex. Some factors:
- Birth rates naturally fall as countries industrialize. As people move from farms to cities where there are more economic opportunities, they always have fewer children. The fact that half your kids don’t die of disease like they did in the old days helps, too.
- Japan is nowhere near the lowest birth rate in the world. At 1.37 births per woman in 2022, Japan is higher than many countries including Singapore, Spain and South Korea.
- Part of Japan’s unique crisis is the lack of immigration to pick up the economic slack. America has traditionally been a country people emigrate to so they can have a better life, and 26% of the U.S. population comes from immigrants and their children. But in Japan, immigration is paltry.
- COVID has not been a friend to world demographics, as the added economic and social stress has made the normal things adults do together that much harder. How many new people have you dated over the last three years of lockdowns and mask-wearing?
- And another crisis might be coming. Do you see the weird population drop that happened in 1966 in the chart above? That was the Year of the Fire Horse, a bizarre superstition that girl children born in that year will be headstrong and unlucky, leading to a huge drop-off in babies born. Guess what? The next Fire Horse year is 2026. Will history repeat itself?
This week Japanese Prime Minister Kishida warned of a host of problems stemming from the new drop in the birth rate, including future societal dysfunction. He said it’s “now or never” to create a child-focused society where couples can feel secure about bringing more children into the world.
Why Did China’s Birth Rate Just Fall Off a Cliff?
I have a few bad habits. I play video games until 3 am, often while drinking too many cans of Strong Zero. I flip between “never work out” to “hit the gym 6 days a week” mode seemingly at random. And I also watch too much YouTube, specifically videos by Peter Zeihan, an expert on how demographic trends will shape the coming decades.
One thing Peter has been harping on in his many talks is that China is headed for the biggest demographic crash in history, thanks to its rapid industrialization, its years of following its one-child policy (which ended in 2015), and its quickly maturing economy and society.
And now we’re getting reports of a massive drop in the birth rate in China, thanks to the economic malaise that’s taken hold thanks to their Zero Covid lockdowns. It’s even worse in Chinese cities, with the overall fertility rate in Shanghai falling under 0.7 per female. Yikes!
What Can Be Done to Fix the Problem?
There’s no easy way to reverse the problem, but I have one suggestion: find a way to roll back the quiet arms race that’s been going on in Asia, as Japan and China increase their military spending each year. Considering that their very existence is on the line, I think that the two countries should come up with some kind of sprawling peace deal that allows them to lower the money — my money, since I pay taxes in Japan — that they throw away on ships, missiles and kawaii attack helicopters.
Thanks for reading this (depressing) article on the birth rate challenges in Japan and China. Got any ideas on how the issue can be helped? Post them below, or hit us up on Twitter!
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