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Japan's births hit record low, falling faster than forecast

By Jiang Xueqing in Tokyo | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-02-28 15:13

Japan last year recorded the lowest number of births in history, according to Japan's health ministry, worse than earlier forecasts.

The health ministry announced on Tuesday that the nation saw a total of 758,631 births in 2023, a 5.1 percent decrease from 2022, continuing a downward trend for the eighth consecutive year.

The decline has come much earlier than anticipated, surpassing forecasts by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, which projected births falling below 760,000 in 2035.

Analysts attribute the rapid decrease in newborns to trends such as delayed marriages and individuals remaining single.

The number of marriage also hit a historic low last year, dropping to 489,281 unions, the lowest since the end of World War II, while divorces increased to 187,798. Kanako Amano, a senior researcher at the NLI Research Institute, highlighted the correlation between declining marriages and birth rates in an interview with Kyodo News.

Amano emphasized the need for governmental intervention through labor reforms, including measures to boost wages in rural areas and address gender disparities, to encourage marriage.

The Japanese government is preparing legislative measures, including initiatives to enhance child allowances, for the current parliamentary session.

Additionally, the government also plans to require companies with over 100 employees to establish and disclose targets for paternity leave uptake starting in April 2025. This move aims to promote fathers' participation in childcare, enabling parents to balance work and family duties more effectively.

According to a fiscal 2022 survey, only 17.1 percent of Japanese men took paternity leave, significantly lower than 80.2 percent of women. The paternity leave falls short of the government's target of 50 percent by 2025, Kyodo News reported.

Experts underscore the importance of paternity leave in redistributing household responsibilities and supporting women's workforce participation, key factors in encouraging higher birth rates in Japan.

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