JEI's Spin on the News

Japan Facing Baby Bust

Thursday, July 2, 1998

With large banks threatening to go belly up, the economy in shambles and difficulties of various sorts in Asia, one might have thought that Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto had a full plate already, but on June 18 he added a subject near and dear to his electorate — babies. He came out in support and implicitly accused the other side — Japanese women of child bearing age — of not doing their part. Rather than point the finger directly at potential voters, he emphasized things the government could do to increase the birthrate.

To Japanese politicians, who are overwhelmingly male, this is a big issue. In fact, some analysts accuse Japanese women of waging a work slowdown or even strike that would shame the United Autoworkers in their showdown with General Motors. According to data released in early June, Japanese women can expect to have an average of 1.39 children over the their lifetime. A number slightly over 2.0 or lower (the approximate U.S. range) implies that couples are not reproducing themselves. Eventually a figure in Japan's range implies reduced population.

One might think that population decline in crowded Japan would not be a bad thing, but the consensus feels otherwise. They see nothing but trouble from the low birthrate, starting with a probable shrinkage in the labor force over the next decade and rising burdens on the working population to support a growing group of elderly. The latest figures suggest there will be fewer young workers than hoped a couple decades from now to relieve this pressure.

"JEI's Spin on the News" are the opinions of one of more members of JEI's staff and do not necessarily represent the views of the organization.

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