Published February 1, 2023
In a dramatic address to the Japanese Parliament last month, the normally businesslike Prime Minister Fumio Kishida issued a Cassandra-like warning to the nation: “Japan is standing on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society.” The source of the crisis? Neither war, nor pestilence, nor economic collapse, but childlessness.
For decades now, Japan has been the global poster child of a graying society. Its fertility rate fell below the replacement level of 2.1 children per women nearly a half century ago in 1974, and has never recovered. Today it stands at 1.3, and the country has more citizens over age 65 than under 25, the only such nation in the world. The country’s population has begun shrinking in recent years and is on track to fall by 60 percent by the end of the century. No wonder Prime Minister Kishida warned that the country “simply cannot wait any longer” and must implement policies to encourage more child-bearing right away.