Causes of Japan’s Declining Birth Rates

5062 words (20 pages) Essay in International Studies

23/09/19 International Studies Reference this

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What are the causes behind the declining birth rate of Japan and how has it impacted the functionality of its society?

Japan is an island country located in the Pacific Ocean within the continent of East Asia, which is divided into 47 prefectures in 8 regions[1]. Japan’s population as of 2018 is approximately 127 million, with about 9 million residents in Tokyo[2]. Japan is one of the most highly educated and most developed countries in the world and is renowned for the influence that the culture has had on western countries, for example, video games and animation originating from Japan are quite popular in countries such as the United States of America. However, despite its numerous successes and achievements, it suffers from being a country with a very low fertility rate and very high suicide rates compared to the other countries in the world. As of 2018, its fertility rate, stands at 1.42[3] births per woman and its suicide rate is 18.5 suicides per 100,000 people[4]. In this essay, I will firstly be discussing the factors which have led to the decline in its fertility rate, then secondly how that has had an effect on the society of Japan and finally the things being done to counteract against the decline.

Prior to exploring the factors, the question of why Japan is the first thing that many people think of when the topic of low fertility rate is mentioned, should be discussed. According to a survey that I conducted with a variety of people, many assume that Japan is the country with the lowest fertility rate – this is a common misconception, especially in social media, in which people think this. There are other countries with similar fertility rates to Japan, for example, Germany, yet not many are aware of this. This is due to the levels of immigration, particularly in European countries, where the immigrants compensate for the low birth rate. Furthermore, Eastern-Asian countries tend to have quite a low birth rate, for example Hong Kong and Taiwan, which both have a lower birth rate than Japan. To put it simply, Japan is not that special in terms of birth rate when compared to its neighbouring countries. However, that does not change the fact that it has a very low birth rate, and I explicitly chose to base my essay on Japan in hopes of finding the factor which has caused the country to be immediately linked with low birth rate, in addition to investigating the other reasons and their impacts.

To begin with, there was a time period in which the fertility rate dropped both tremendously and extremely quickly from 1995 to 1966 – it had dropped from 2.14 to 1.58[5].This particular decline is not related to the modern day decline that my essay will be focusing on, however, it gives a possible reason for any similar declines in the future. There was one reason for this decline: astrology and superstition. In western countries, like the United States, each person is assigned an astrological sign depending on when they were born. For example, someone born on the 24th of July would be assigned the astrological sign of the Leo. These astrological signs are often used to give a general outline of a person’s personality and to measure their compatibility with people of other astrological signs. Eastern countries, like China, also have a roster of astrological signs which slightly differ from the western system and Japan uses the same system as China. 1966 in Japan, was known as the year of the Hinoe-Uma, literally meaning Fire Horse and is a year that occurs every 60 years. Girls born in that year became known as ‘Fire Horse Women’ and are reputed to be dangerous, headstrong and generally bad luck for any husband[6]. In 1966, a baby’s sex couldn’t be reliably detected before birth; hence there was a large increase of induced abortions and a sharp decrease in the birth rate in 1966[7]. With the coming of both 1967 and the passing of the year of the Fire Horse, the Japanese calmed down, at which point the fertility rate rose back to 2.02[8]. This specific time period did not mark the start of the current declination of the fertility rate of modern day Japan, but nevertheless, it was still a notable time in the history of Japan which I felt that I should include in this essay.

From 1967 to 1973, the fertility rate remained rather stable, hovering at an average of 2.13[9]. However, 1974 was the year that marked the start of the trend at which the decreasing fertility rate began and is the decline that this essay will be focusing on. The first factor affecting the fertility rate in modern day Japan is the difficulty and challenges that comes with entering parenthood. There are two categories of the difficulties that come with parenthood: emotional difficulty and the difficulty of having to attend to the child while at the same time, finding time to provide for the child financially. Firstly, under the emotional difficulty category, women in the press and the media have admitted to finding motherhood tedious and tiring. It is understandable and quite logical to some extent that they feel this way, since being a parent, especially a mother, requires one to commit their life to nurturing and raising their children; that burden is very heavy on a lot of parents. The solitude and isolation that has been reported to come as a result of becoming a mother is a common factor that discourages women from entering motherhood and that therefore leads to an increase in inexperienced people who are unprepared for the commitments of motherhood. Furthermore, according to helplines for parents, people have called in saying things implying that they should never been a parent or that they are unworthy of being a parent[10]. This is proof that demonstrates how much of a toll that motherhood can have on both the mental and physical wellbeing of a person.

Secondly, the difficulty of having to attend to the child while at the same time, finding time to provide for the child financially can also induce stress on parents and therefore repels people from the idea of starting a family. It would be logical to secure a stable job and source of income before even thinking of starting a family – if one cannot consistently provide for themself then it would prove difficult to provide for another person. However, there has been a decrease in good opportunities for young people to attain such stability in Japan. Although Japan is a country where the economy is doing very well, with an unemployment rate of only 2.4% (as of November 2018)[11], the workforce is described as quite irregular, meaning that people do not work for companies in which they have a stable job for their whole career. Instead, multiple temporary or part-time jobs with low salaries and no benefits are taken. These kind of workers are known as ‘irregular workers’ or ‘non-regular employees’. In Japan, the term ‘regular employee’ is generally considered as an employee who is hired directly by their employer without a predetermined period of employment and works for scheduled hours[12]. With regular employment, good benefits and sufficient raises are usually given, which are things that would assist in providing for a child. On the other hand, a ‘non regular employee’ is an employee who does not meet one of the conditions for regular employment[13]. Following on from the difficulty of securing a stable income, raising a child is extremely expensive; a considerably large amount of money must also be spent before the child is even born, especially in a country where healthcare is not free. Therefore, in a culture where men are expected to be the main source of income for a family, those with an unstable income and job would be unable to reach those expectations which has serious implications for childbearing and this is one of the reasons to why there has been a decline in the birth rate of Japan.

 Finally, there has been a trend in which Japanese people are beginning to abstain from sex and romantic relationships, which is known as celibacy syndrome. As of 2017, almost half of all young people between ages 18 and 34 are still virgins and have not had any sexual experiences, according to a survey conducted by the BBC[14]. According to a survey conducted by the Japan Family Association in 2016, 21.3% of married men and 17.8% of married women said they didn’t want sex because of fatigue from work, while 23% of married women said sex was “bothersome” and 17.9% of male respondents said they had little interest in sex[15]. The main cause of celibacy syndrome in Japan seems to be the struggle of balancing one’s work life with their sex life. In fact, Japan is quite renowned for being a country in which people work extremely long and hard hours, sometimes even to the point where they overwork themselves to death. Both women and men are victims of overworking themselves, which comes to the point that they lack the energy to maintain their sex life. Death by overworking has become more frequent in Japan, that there is now a term for death by overwork: karoshi. Women in Japan, and most likely in other eastern countries, are expected to quit their job after marriage and because of this, an increasing number of women choose not to marry as to not be chained down to a stifling gender role as a housewife[16]. Another cause of celibacy syndrome in Japan, although minor, is the increasing alternatives for sex. Things such as virtual girlfriends and hentai (a form of pornography originating from Japan) have always been an easier option as an outlet for one’s libido instead of sex as they are more accessible than finding a real partner to have sex with. According to an online survey that I conducted with the Japanese, 73% of people prefer to use these alternatives rather than go through the effort of finding a partner to have sex with. This therefore leads to a decrease in women getting pregnant, which consequently leads to a decline in the birth rate.

 The burdens of parenthood, the difficulty of securing a stable job and income and celibacy syndrome are the three factors which contribute the most to the decline in Japan’s birth rate. This brings an end to the first section of this essay, moving on to the second section in which the impacts of the declining birth rate and what is being done to put an end to the decline will be discussed.

 The decline in birth rate has consequently led to a decrease in the number of children in Japan. As a result, the ratio between those over age 70 and those under 70 has been closed to a meer 1 to 5[17] – the elderly population has significantly increased. Because of this, more people are retired from work and with the lack of younger people to make up for the retired, a labor shortage is caused which is causing the nation’s productivity to suffer. In order to make up for this labor shortage, the children of modern Japan are heavily pressured to succeed and contribute to the workforce, which could then present problems with the future wellbeing of the children. This would in turn negatively impact the functionality of Japan’s society. The decline has also had a negative impact on the economic growth and savings rates of Japan. In addition, government projections suggested that within a hundred years, by 2100, Japan’s population will tumble to 55 million, from 127 million in 2018[18].

 To counteract the decline, more benefits of marriage and children are being given to the citizens for example, many Japanese cities are paying women if they have children. In a town called Ama on the island of Nakanoshima, parents receive roughly $940 if they have one child and $9400 if they have a fourth child[19]. From 2014 to 2015, and as proof of the success of this incentive, the town’s fertility rate had increased from 1.66 to 1.80[20]. Other incentives such as giving couples money upon marriage and giving parents money when their children reach a certain age are being considered. Supporting families financially would prove to recover from the declining birth rate since as mentioned in the first section of this essay, raising a child is extremely expensive. On a different note from financial support, in 1995 the Finance Minister of Japan, Ryutaro Hashimoto suggested to discourage women from entering higher education as a way of combating the decline, however, he later denied that he had said this after being accused and attacked by primarily female citizens of Japan[21]. Another strategy which could possibly be implemented to temporarily counter the labor shortage would be to import workers from abroad or to make use of workers who are currently not in work, such as women and the elderly; by increasing the retirement age, the workforce will not shrink as rapidly and will allow time for the increase of the number of people who are at an age to work.

 In conclusion, the causes behind the declining birth rate of Japan were the difficulties of coping with parenthood, the struggle of securing a stable job and income to be able to pay for the financial expenses of raising children and the growing trend in celibacy syndrome, in which people are losing interest in sex. This has had negative impacts on Japan’s workforce and  economic growth as there are less people who are of age to work which has decreased Japan’s labour productivity. However, counteracts such as financially supporting families have been taken and as a result, Japan’s birth rate has began to gradually increase since 2005[22].

Works Cited:



Having completed this essay, I feel that it has been an experience that I had expected from the beginning. The topic that I chose to write my essay about was heavily based upon figures and statistics which then required me to interpret them and research reasons to why the statistics are like that. I found that I barely followed my essay plan because as I was writing the essay, I realised that some of the points were not as ‘individual’ as I thought they would be and so I embedded them into other paragraphs – this led to the discussion section of my essay being shorter than I had expected it to be. While writing my essay, I also found that the points I had planned to write about had many other links with many other factors. I also found myself not using the resources that I had found before writing the essay, and instead found new and more helpful resources as I was writing the essay. This is because I did not properly read the resources that I had found and just assumed they would contribute to my essay.

I feel that my time was poorly managed when completing this project. I had a Gantt Chart which should have served the purpose of helping me complete objectives for my project consistently and I have filled it in. However, I decided to ignore it and procrastinate. Because of this, the work I have had to do for this project was not evenly spread across my available time and I have had to do large amounts of work in short periods of time to meet the deadline, which has led me to lose interest in the topic. One of my aims as a result of completing this project was to improve my time management – unfortunately, that has not been achieved. Despite this, I feel that I have managed to use a variety of resources, which was also one of my aims. I believe that I have correctly answered my essay question.

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Japan,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed December 3, 2018).

[2] World Bank contributors, “Population, Total, Japan” World Bank, (accessed December 3, 2018).

[3] Dadax, “Japan Population (LIVE).” Worldometers, (accessed December 3, 2018).

[4] “Japan Population 2018”,  Total Population by Country 2018, (accessed December 3, 2018).

[5] World Bank contributors, “Population, Total, Japan” World Bank, (accessed December 3, 2018).

[6] “Hinoe Uma – the ‘Fire Horse’.” Buddhist Fish, (accessed December 3, 2018).

[7] “Hinoe Uma – the ‘Fire Horse’.” Buddhist Fish, (accessed December 3, 2018).

[8]  World Bank contributors, “Population, Total, Japan” World Bank, (accessed December 3, 2018).

[9]  World Bank contributors, “Population, Total, Japan” World Bank, (accessed December 3, 2018).

[10] Jolivet, Muriel, Japan: The Childless Society, New York: Routledge, 1997, p. 1.

[11] “Japan Unemployment Rate.” TRADING ECONOMICS. (accessed December 3, 2018).

[12] Asao, Yutaka, Overview of Non-regular Employment in Japan, Report, The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training, p. 1.

[13] Asao, Yutaka, Overview of Non-regular Employment in Japan, Report, The Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training, p. 1.

[15] Cohen, Hiyaguha, “The Celibacy Syndrome”, The Baseline of Health Foundation, August 18, 2018,, (accessed December 3, 2018).

[16] Cohen, Hiyaguha, “The Celibacy Syndrome”, The Baseline of Health Foundation, August 18, 2018,, (accessed December 3, 2018).

[17] “For the First Time, 1 Person in 5 in Japan Is 70 or Older.” The Japan Times, September 17, 2018,  (accessed December 3, 2018).

[18] Hays, Jeffrey, “BIRTH CONTROL, ABORTION AND POPULATION CONTROL IN JAPAN.” Facts and Details, 2009, (accessed December 3, 2018).

[19] Holodny, Elena, “Why People in Japan Are Being Paid to Have Babies.” World Economic Forum, January 12, 2018, (accessed December 3, 2018).

[20] Holodny, Elena, “Why People in Japan Are Being Paid to Have Babies.” World Economic Forum, January 12, 2018, (accessed December 3, 2018).

[21] Sanger, David E, “Minister Denies He Opposed College for Japanese Women.” The New York Times, June 19, 1990, p. 2. (accessed December 3, 2018).

[22] World Bank contributors, “Population, Total, Japan” World Bank, (accessed December 3, 2018).

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