Japan’s prime minister is raising the alarm over the country’s dire population problem, due to its collapsing fertility rate.
Prime Minister Jumio Kishida said in a policy speech at the start of this year’s parliamentary session, “It is now or never when it comes to policies regarding births and child-rearing.”
“It is an issue that simply cannot wait any longer,” he added.
Japan has one of the world’s lowest birth rates, averaging just 1.34 births per woman, according to the World Bank. The “replacement rate,” or the average fertility rate needed for each generation to replace itself, is 2.1. In fact, according to CNN, the Japanese Ministry of Health is predicting that “it will record fewer than 800,000 births in 2022 for the first time since records began in 1899.”
Japan’s population growth has already turned negative, first going negative in 2011. Currently, Japan is averaging a -0.5% annual change in its population each year. Its population has shrunk from 128.1 million people in 2010, to only 125.7 million as of 2021, the World Bank also reports. And that decline is accelerating.
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But not only is the decline accelerating for Japan, it’s also most likely never going to end.
In the book Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline, researchers Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson point to Japan’s beginning decline as a warning to the world.
“When describing the demography of Japan today, the word that often gets used is catastrophic,” they write (emphasis in original). “More than a quarter of all Japanese alive today are seniors; making Japan the oldest society on earth.”
There are more forty-year-old women than there are thirty-year-old women, who outnumber twenty-year-old women. That’s what makes population decline so implacable; once it sets in, it’s virtually impossible to stop, because every year there are fewer women of child-bearing age than there were the year before.
If a society experiences a generation or more of fertility below the rate of 1.5, goes this theory, then that rate becomes the new normal, a normal that’s almost impossible to change.
The researchers write that by 2050, if current trends continue, Japan’s population will be barely above 100 million. By 2100, it will be just 83 million. And the decline will continue from there.
This is a fact that the Japanese prime minister understands. Prime Minister Kishida is preparing to “launch a new government agency in April to support children and families.” The prime minister has also “endorsed direct economic support to families with dependent children, the strengthening of child care services, and the reform of Japanese working habits to allow working parents a better work-life balance.”
These programs are important, but according to Bricker and Ibbitson, it may be too little too late. “It is official government policy to find a way to keep Japanese population above one hundred million. But no one has figured out how to do that,” they write.
While the population of Japan has been shrinking for over a decade, other countries are right on its heels.
For example, the government of China recently announced that its population fell by 850,000 people last year, “the first recorded drop since the Mao-induced famines of the early 1960s.” Its fertility rate is 1.28 births per woman, lower than the United States’ 1.64 ratio, according the World Bank.
The Chinese government has quickly awoken to the fact that its falling fertility rate is a grave threat to its existence and future. This is evidenced by the government’s instantaneous reversal of its longtime one-child policy in favor of a three-child policy in 2021. China has also begun the “largest and most comprehensive effort to boost national fertility by any nation in the history of the world.”
Sociologists, researchers and eccentric billionaires – Elon Musk – alike have been warning of the imminent collapse of the world as we know it. But the end of the world is not likely to come from climate change. It probably won’t come from environmental degradation. It won’t even come from a nuclear accident or exchange.
Instead, the end of the world is likely to come from an ever-shrinking world population.
The problem of declining fertility and an imminent population decline is not only for a few countries like Japan and China. It’s a problem faced by the entire world.
Bricker and Ibbitson write:
The great defining event of the twenty-first century – one of the great defining events in human history – will occur in three decades, give or take, when the global population starts to decline. Once that decline begins, it will never end.
We do not face the challenge of a population bomb but of a population bust – a relentless, generation-after-generation culling of the human herd. Nothing like this has ever happened before.
This finding is stark, and disturbing.
Yet it demonstrates the wisdom of Scripture from the very beginning of time. In the very first chapter of the book of Genesis, the first command God gives to humankind is, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28 ESV).
When humans cease to obey this first command, nothing good can result.
This is one of the reasons why the work Focus on the Family does is so important. As goes the family, so goes the nation – and the world. If families decline and fail to replace themselves, populations do too. And when populations decline, the future starts to look ever bleaker.
If you want to support the work of Focus on the Family, you can do so here.
Photo from Shutterstock.