Japanese government’s Minister of Children’s Policy Masanobu Ogura, tasked with addressing the country’s declining birthrate, unveiled a draft proposal to reverse the country’s demographic catastrophe. The proposal includes increased subsidies for education and upbringing of children and a pay raise for younger workers as an incentive for marriage and childbearing.
As we all know, Japan’s population of over 125 million has been declining for 15 years and is expected to drop to 86.7 million by 2060. The shrinking and aging population has enormous implications for the economy and national security. After promises made by the Japanese Prime Minister the past few months, the Minister of Children’s Policy said that the next few years represent perhaps “the last chance” for Japan to reverse its declining birth rate. If the number of births continues to decline at the rate of the early 2000s, the youth population in 2030 will still shrink by half of its current size, and this will produce catastrophic consequences for the country.
Many young Japanese have given up on getting married or having a family, discouraged by poor job prospects, business organizations incompatible with two working parents, especially working women, and low public tolerance for young children. Minister Ogura proposed more financial assistance, including more government subsidies for children’s education, more generous student loans for higher education, and increased access to childcare services. It also aims to change the cultural mindset toward greater gender equality both at work and at home. The proposal also includes increased government assistance to companies to encourage male staff to take paternity leave, which has been a point of contention for working fathers who fear retaliation. The package of proposals has been submitted to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for further consideration. Next June, as promised after the election, the entire birth and marriage plan will be presented by Prime Minister Kishida to the parliament.
In 2022, Japan had 799,728 new births, which is a record low, falling below 800,000 for the first time since surveys began in 1899. Many couples face economic hardships that prevent them from having the second and third child. Ogura’s proposal does not mention the estimated cost of these measures; however, plans have been leaked in recent weeks that the costs of birth and family measures would be covered by issuing ad-hoc government bonds. The budget for childcare policies could be covered by government bonds, and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is considering these “unprecedented” measures to counter the country’s declining birth rate.