Heading for Extinction

Letter from Japan

Last year, an arresting headline on page three of Tokyo’s Daily Yomiuri newspaper read “Japan Heading for Extinction.”  The article bemoaned the contents of a government white paper addressing Japan’s declining birthrate.

The average number of babies born to a Japanese woman during her reproductive years dropped to a record low of 1.28 in 2004, continuing a downward trend that started in the early 1980’s.  The number of babies born in Japan in 2004 is estimated at 1,107,000, the lowest figure since the nation’s demographic statistics were first published in 1899.  The National Institute of Population and Social Security projects a drop in Japan’s population from 125 million in 2004 to 100 million by 2056.

The government white paper is full of gloomy statistics pointing to the dire social and economic consequences a declining population will have on the nation.  There are now 25 million Japanese aged 65 or older, accounting for 20 percent of the total population, and their ranks are swelling yearly.  The pension and national health-insurance systems face an impending breakdown as expenditures on the graying population outstrip income from a shrinking labor force.

Over the past ten years, the government has spent tens of billions of dollars on measures aimed at halting the declining birthrate, but to no avail.  Most of the funds have...

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