Declining Fertility vol.1

International Information
“Aging in Japan”


As of April 1, 2003, the percentage of people aged 65 and over was 18.9% in Japan, which would make us the oldest country in the world.

This unique phenomenon in Japan has attracted global interests. As a growing number of researchers and practitioners in other countries make requests for information on Japan, our organization (Japan Aging Research Center = JARC) sees a critical role to respond. The information they seem to be interested in includes population dynamics in Japan, its contributing factors, its social implications, current conditions of the Japanese elderly, social policies that are related to the elderly, and our brief comments on these issues. These are exactly what we like to learn from other countries.

Hence, JARC has developed an international information “Aging in Japan” web site, in both Japanese and English languages, to disseminate information to people in other countries who are interested in Japanese aging populations.

Some information about Japan is already available elsewhere. For example, JARC has periodic publications “Aging in Japan” since 1991, which provide information on population aging and social changes in Japan. Japanese Statistics Bureau also makes relevant data available to the public. Therefore, this web site will provide brief overviews of Japan and its aging populations based on the latest data and research results.

Japan has several holidays for different age groups, such as “Children’s day” or “Boy’s festival” on May 5th and “Respect-for-the-aged day” in mid-September. In such occasions and more, Japanese government releases a number of data on populations and social changes, and media effectively disseminate these data. Incorporating these latest data, we would like to provide new information in our web site at least quarterly.

This site is developed not only by JARC staff but also by researchers and practitioners from various fields in Japan, who contribute valuable knowledge and experiences to the site. We would also like to share information and brief papers from other countries as well, both in Japanese and English languages.

In this issue, we will talk about the rapidly declining fertility rates in Japan, using the latest data on birth rates and the number of children.

Declining Fertility vol.2

Declining Fertility in Japan

According to the latest Japanese government data that were released on May 5 (Children’s Day), there were 18 million children aged 0 to 14 as of April 1, 2003. This number is 170 thousands less than the last year, and the number of children has been declining constantly for 22 years. Looking more closely by sex, there were 9.23 million boys and 8.78 million girls, with a sex ratio of 105.1:100. The percentage of this age group was 14.1%, the lowest in Japanese history.

The primary reason for this trend is declining fertility rates. There were 1.15 million births, and the total fertility rate (TFR) was 1.32 in 2002. Both numbers were the lowest since Japan started collecting such statistical data over 100 years ago.

Shortly after the World War II (WW II) ended, Japan had the first baby boom between 1947 and 1949. The number of births was about 2.7 million per year, and the TFR was over 4. After this baby boom fertility rates declined rapidly. The TFR dropped to 2.22, and the number of births was about 1.6 million in 1956. Because a number of Asian countries were struggling with population explosions, this rapid drop in fertility rates was called “Miracle in Japan.” This “miracle” did not happen without reasons. During this time period, Japan started a number of programs, including “New Life Movement (family planning and family financial planning)” in 1950s and “Maternal and child health handbook (since 1948, Japanese government has given this handbook to all the pregnant women and has provided periodic health check-ups for mothers and children, immunization, family planning guidance, and health education).” Public and private sectors collaborated in these efforts.

The number of births gradually increased again in 1960s. The only exception was in 1966, the year of “Hinoe-uma (fiery horse).” The Hinoe-uma year comes every 60 years, and the Japanese old superstition says that women born in this year are not suitable as wives. In this year, the TFR was 1.58 and the number of births was 1.36 million. Except for this year, the number of children grew constantly, and Japan had the second baby boom between 1971 and 1974. Although the number of births increased to about 2 million per year during this time, the TFR stayed around 2.1, the same as the replacement rate. Because Japanese economy showed steady growth in this time period, this country saw growing energy as well as hopes for the future. Japanese people were also called “economic animals” around this time. It is important to note that it was also this time period when the Japanese population started aging.

Declining Fertility vol.3

Declining Fertility in Japan (continue)

The number of births reached its peak at 2.09 million (TFR=2.14) in 1973 then started declining. In early 1980s, the number of births stayed around 1.5 million per year, and the TFR was about 1.7. However, the declining trend started once again in 1985. The TFR was 1.54 in 1990 and dropped to 1.42 in 1995, 1.36 in 2000, and 1.32 in 2002. (Public data sources: Japanese Statistics Bureau; Statistics and Information Department, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare).

The first census after the WW II (The national census has been conducted every 5 years since 1920. However, data were not collected in 1945, when the war ended. Therefore, the first census after the WW II was conducted in 1950) shows that the percentage of children was 35.4% in Japan. It dropped to 24.0% in 1970, 23.5% in 1980, and 18.2% in 1990. By 1997 the percentage dropped further to 16%, the same as that of the elderly. In 2000, the percentage of children (14.55%) was lower than that of the elderly (17.34%).

According to the projections by National Institute of Population and Social Security Research (NIPSSR), the number of children will be 16.2 million (12.8%) in 2015, about a half of the elderly (3.28 million or 26.0% of the total population).

NIPSSR also conducts a fertility survey every 5 years. This survey provides valuable insights of birth dynamics in Japan. The latest survey results (2002 data) were released in May 2003.

The subjects of this fertility survey are married females who are under age 50. When they were asked how many children they planned to have, the average responses were 2.55 in 1972, 2.20 in 1982, 2.19 in 1992, and 2.13 in 2002. The numbers of actual births were about 1.93~1.96 between 1972 and 1987, but they declined to 1.84 in 1997 and 1.79 in 2002.

According to this survey, mothers on average had had 1.98 children by age 34 until 1987. The number declined to 1.76 in 1992, 1.61 in 1997, and 1.52 in 2002. Mothers aged 35 to 39 had had 2 children on average until 1997. In 2002, they only had 1.9 children. These data show aging of child bearing in recent years.

It is interesting to see that the “ideal number” of children has not changed since 1972. It stayed around 2.5~2.6 in the last 30 years. Also, compared with TFR, the number of births showed relatively slow decline. (Source: Fertility Survey)

Japanese government started several programs to support child care in 1990s, which included building more nurseries and conducting PR activities to encourage development of family-friendly environments. In 2004 a new national initiative will also start, in which local communities and corporations will build social environments to raise the next generation.

In 1990s local municipalities made comprehensive plans to meet health, medical, and welfare needs of the elderly. Similarly, all the local municipalities (about 3,200) will develop comprehensive plans to help families raise children. About 50 municipalities have already started pilot projects to make comprehensive plans. These plans may include collaborative efforts with education systems. We would like to talk more about these child support initiatives in near future when we have more information.