VOA Learning English

In Japan, Fewer Births, Marriages a Cause for Concern

VOA Learning English • voa
Feb. 27, 2024 3 minSource

The number of babies born in Japan last year fell to a new low for an eighth straight year, government data shows. In addition, the number of marriages continues to drop.

The Health and Welfare Ministry reported Tuesday that 758,631 babies were born in Japan in 2023. That represented a 5.1 percent decline from the year earlier. It was the lowest number of births since Japan started recording the statistics in 1899.

The number of marriages fell by 5.9 percent to 489,281 couples , falling below a half-million for the first time in 90 years. Fewer marriages are one of the reasons for fewer births. Having children outside of marriage is rare in the East Asian country.

Opinion studies show that many younger Japanese do not want to marry or have families. They note the lack of good jobs and high cost of living as reasons. Some say the working culture in Japanese businesses makes it hard for both parents to work. Young parents say they often feel isolated as people do not want to hear crying babies or children playing outside.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi called the ongoing declining birth rate “critical.” He said, “The period over the next six years or so until (the) 2030s, when the younger population will start declining rapidly, will be the last chance we may be able to reverse the trend .”

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called the low birth numbers “the biggest crisis Japan faces.” He has introduced several measures to give financial support for childbirth, children, and their families.

But experts say they doubt whether the government’s efforts will work because they have largely centered on people who already are married or are planning to have children. The measures do not deal with a growing population of young people who are not getting married or planning to have a family.

The number of births in Japan has been falling for 50 years after a peak of about 2.1 million. The decrease to a yearly number below 760,000 has happened faster than expected. Experts had predicted that it would take place by 2035.

Japan’s population of more than 125 million is expected to drop to 87 million by 2070, with four out of every 10 people at age 65 or older.

A shrinking and aging population has a big effect on the economy and national security. Recently, Japan lost its spot as the world’s third-largest economy , falling behind Germany. The country also needs to expand its military to deal with China’s expansive territorial claims.

I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.

Mari Yamaguchi reported this story for the Associated Press. Hai Do adapted this report for VOA Learning English.

Words in This Story

couple –n. two people who are married

isolated –adj. apart from other people; unable to communicate or interact with others

reverse –v. to completely change direction; to go back to an earlier time

trend –n. the general direction of change related to a certain condition in a group of people

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