09/03/2022, 13.39
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Drop in birthrate accelerating in the first 6 months of 2022

by Guido Alberto Casanova

The pandemic has led to a new all-time low in pregnancies with another 20,000 fewer births. If the trend continues at the end of the year, the phenomenon is expected to reach levels that were predicted for 2030. In 2021, Japan's population dropped by about 726 thousand. Government policies to help combine parenthood and work life have yielded little result.



Tokyo (AsiaNews) - This week the Tokyo Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare released preliminary birth data for the first six months of the current year, and the numbers are alarming. Never in the past two decades have so few births occurred in Japan as in the first half of 2022, from January to June. Published statistics report about 385,000 new births, down at least 20,000 from last year's figure.

The demographic thud below 400,000 births comes after nearly three years of the pandemic, which year saw Japan's births fall further in a very rapid manner. Socioeconomic uncertainties due to the spread of Covid-19 are considered the main causes behind the drop in pregnancies. However, it should be remembered that the declining birth rate in Japan is a trend that long predates the outbreak of the pandemic.

The number of new births has been declining for several decades, and since 2016-when for the first time there were fewer than one million new births over a 12-month period-each new year has seen a decline from the previous year. If the trend in the first half of 2022 continues into the second half, this year would mark a record low in births by falling below the 811,000 new births recorded last year for the first time. This is the lowest figure since 1899, when Japan first began keeping track of this statistic.

The pandemic, however, has had a disruptive effect on the declining birth rate. Studies conducted in 2017 by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research reported that Japan's population would certainly decline, but at a much slower rate than was then actually observed. According to the estimates, the annual number of new births was not expected to hit 810,000 before 2030. Yet, according to this year's preliminary data, it is possible that that figure will be surpassed as much as 8 years earlier.

These figures then couple with the rise in deaths, from the intersection of which a very worrying picture emerges for Japanese demographics. In 2021, against the negative record for births, there was also the equally negative record of some 1.44 million deaths. In essence, during the past year, Japan's population dropped by more than 726,000.

The population crisis, however, is not an unmanageable phenomenon, and over the past decade Tokyo has begun to take concrete measures to counter it. A number of initiatives have been promoted by former PM Abe and current PM Kishida to help Japanese people combine parenthood and work life. The results - however - are still slow to show themselves, in a Japan that is getting a little smaller and older with each passing year.

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