The number of births in Japan, including foreigners, in 2022 amounted to 799,728, which represents a 5.1% decrease from the previous year. This marks the first time that Japan’s births have fallen below 800,000 since comparable data became available in 1899, a staggering 11 years ahead of national forecasts.
Double-Layered Flying Saucer
The population issue is a frequent topic of discussion in Japan, with keywords such as “population countermeasures” and “decreasing birthrate and aging population” appearing in the news almost daily. Despite recognizing this negative trend early on and working diligently to find a solution, the Japanese have watched as the situation has worsened day by day. The lack of newborns is primarily due to Japanese infertility, while the large middle-aged and elderly population can be traced back to the rapid growth and bubble period of the Japanese economy in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. During these prosperous years, people lived comfortably without any worry about raising children.
Ideally, a country’s population structure should be “pyramidal,” with the young and middle-aged labor force forming the base, and the population decreasing as age increases. However, Japan’s current population structure takes on a double-layered flying saucer shape. The 65 to 70-year-old age group represents the largest proportion, followed by the 40-year-old age group. The distribution of children and super-elderly people is almost a mirror image, with the number of people decreasing as age increases. If this trend continues, Japan’s population structure could potentially become an “inverted pyramid.”
At Least 20 Million Yen
The unemployment rate of Japan’s marriageable group aged 25 to 35 increased by 1.6% in 2020 compared to 2019, causing many people to postpone or cancel their marriage plans. The heavy economic pressure has gradually changed the traditional Japanese family structure of “male-dominated outside and female-dominated inside.” Women are now entering the workplace as dual-career family members, leaving the full-time housewife role behind. However, working longer hours leaves little time to specialize in life, and having and raising children significantly increases the cost of living.
Objectively speaking, the cost of childbirth in Japan is relatively low among developed countries, and there is even a saying of “zero cost.” In 1994, the Japanese government established a “one-time maternity subsidy” to provide economic support to families who give birth. If you are diagnosed as pregnant for four months or more, you can apply to the government for a one-time subsidy of 300,000 yen, regardless of whether the child is born safely. In 2022, this amount has increased to 420,000 yen, which can essentially cover the cost of childbirth-related medical services in various prefectures in Japan. However, the cost of childcare is the primary obstacle preventing Japanese children from having children.
Although the Japanese government distributes growth subsidies of 10,000 to 15,000 yen per month from birth to the age of 15, these have not had a significant impact on family parenting. How much does a Japanese family spend on raising a child from birth to university graduation? The 1993 edition of the “White Paper on Welfare and Health” published by the Japanese government estimated that “it takes about 20 million yen to raise a child to an adult,” including education and food expenses. The “White Paper on Health and Health” also pointed out that “when a child enters university, the cost of raising will reach 45% to 70% of the family’s disposable income.” Since Japan’s income and consumption levels have not changed significantly in the past 30 years, the parenting cost of 20 million yen can be used as a basic reference value.
According to the Japanese Cabinet Government’s “Investigation Report on Parenting Expenses Implemented Through the Internet” (2010 Edition), the average annual cost of raising children before kindergarten is 840,000 yen, 1.22 million yen for kindergarten children, and 1.15 million yen for elementary school students. On average, it costs more than 1 million yen per year to raise a child. Education expenses account for the bulk of parenting expenses. Based on data from the “Survey of Children’s Study Expenses” (2016 edition) by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology of Japan, the total cost for children to receive public education from kindergarten to university is about 10.8 million yen. If all of them go to private schools, the cost of liberal arts is roughly 25 million Japanese yen, and science is approximately 26 million yen. Additionally, Japan has a deep-rooted “remedial school” culture, with a good cram school costing about 1 million yen per semester.
Under the considerable expenses involved, the Japanese government’s subsidy of more than 10,000 yen per month for each family is a mere drop in the bucket, and it is not enough to significantly alleviate the financial burden of raising children. Thus, many Japanese couples decide to delay or forgo having children altogether.
Japan’s declining birth rate is a complex issue that involves various factors, including economic pressure, changes in family structure, and high costs of raising children. Despite the government’s efforts to address the problem, such as providing subsidies and implementing policies to support work-life balance, the situation remains challenging. It will require a multifaceted approach, including addressing the root causes of the issue and implementing long-term solutions, to reverse the declining trend and ensure a sustainable future for Japan’s population.