Why is the birth rate in Japan so low?

Originally published at: Why is the birth rate in Japan so low? | Boing Boing


The takeaway from the video is that the main causes are the demands (and to a lesser extent enticements) of a late-stage capitalist system combined with deeply ingrained institutional sexism.

In other words, the very things that conservatives around the world accept as right and proper while they fret about BS explanations like “declining traditional values”, the “moral hazard” of unconditional government and corporate support for parents, and too few of the “right kind of people” having kids.

Japan is a kind of preview for other advanced economies, whether or not they’re also dealing with long-term stagnation like that country. Neoliberal elites will wring their hands about the dangers posed to the social safety net by an aging society with a low replacement rate, but unless they’re actively promoting immigration that’s really just a pretext to cut old-age benefits.

As fears of overpopulation, climate change, and financial instability continue to grow among people of childbearing age, babies are starting to become retro.

While pessimism about the future might play a part, the more immediate concerns discussed above and in the video play a greater and more immediate part in deciding to go child-free whatever one’s generation.

Also, the fear of overpopulation is long discredited. The problem is not one of scarcity but of a lack of equitable distribution.

Finally, a note to anyone who sees this topic as an opportunity to promote eco-fascist rhetoric or as a chance to insist that anyone can parent as long as they’re motivated or to use a personal decision not to have kids as a basis for virtue signaling: find another forum to push that garbage.


A lot of people just don’t want to have kids or don’t want to have more than one. There just are not enough daycares and kindergartens. A lot of preschools will only accept children if both parents are working. Families with just one breadwinner often have to make do without daycare or get on a waiting list before the child is even born.

The government is providing monetary support (daycare is free if they have room for your kid, and healthcare is practically free), but they aren’t addressing the underlying issues that make it hard to have kids in Japan.


This seems to be the root of the issue when you look at trends on a global scale.
Once you have education, contraception and a stable society, people are able to have the number of children they actually want. And that number turns out to be not many.

Which is also why I think we should stop falling for the framing of population decline as a “problem”. It’s a fact that we have to deal with in a humane way.


What are you basing that on? Because the studies I’ve seen show that, on average, women are having fewer children than they’d like.



I saw an episode of Nova (I think) many years ago talking about the population growth decrease in industrialized countries.

Their takeaway was that in developing largely rural countries, children are an economic asset. They can be put to work out in the fields. The more kids you have, the more work can be done, and the more money you make.

But in cities or developed countries, children cost money. You can’t put them to work, either because there are no jobs or because it’s illegal, so there’s no incentive to have them at all.

The end result is that, with one major exception, population growth and birth rates are slowing down in industrialized countries. That one major exception? The United States of America. And that’s only because of immigration - the birth rate here is declining, but there’s enough immigration to more than make up for it.

This is scaring a lot of (edit per Mangochin) conservative white (end edit) people.


Yep, it’s examples like this which I think is another element in some of the population decline in countries like Japan and the US, lack of any support for young people to become parents. It’s wild how so many right wingers will squawk about being pro-family but rarely put their money where their mouth is and support (not just putting together money for a govt program, but actively participate in the creation of said program so it can succeed) programs for families like paid leave, health insurance, and so forth.


FTFY :grin:


Immigration is really picking up steam here in Japan as well. It’s really different compared to ten or even five years ago. There are so many people from South and Southeast Asia working in the service industry now (before it was mostly just factories). The problem is that they are mostly short term immigrants who face a lot of obstacles when it comes to settling here longer term. They are playing a larger and larger role here, but they are still almost invisible.


It’s not unique to this aspect of social science; but those results are potentially fiddly given that they rely on the premise that asking people about their future plans is viable both in terms of people having definite future plans and telling you about them accurately rather than according to their belief in what the correct answer is. The latter of the two studies you link notes the problem:

Third, some researchers have critically noted that lifetime fertility intentions are difficult to measure. Respondents do not necessarily have an attitude formed at the time of the interview (Bachrach and Morgan 2013) and possibly make up whether they want children or not, as well as how many, because of the coercive nature of the interview situation and possibly influenced by social norms and desirability (Ní Bhrolcháin and Beaujouan 2019).

Unless you want to go full irksome economist and just declare that outcomes are, axiomatically, ‘revealed preferences’ it’s not obvious what the alternative to “ask people about their plans; then compare the answers to what they do” is; but that doesn’t make the difficulties any smaller.

It’s especially tricky to tease out when a lot of the factors that appear to make people otherwise interested in children not have them are the sort of more or less unpleasant things(economic instability, poor work/life balance, lack of suitable available partners) that are probably less likely to show up in the soft-focus future despite being more or less common; so you need to contend with the question of how much you are asking people about children vs. how much you are asking them about having the time, money, and relationships they’d like to have.


Fair, that kind of study has its weaknesses, but following that same line of reasoning I still think that the statement “people are able to have the number of children they actually want” isn’t exactly supported by robust data either.

Anecdotes are obviously not the same thing as data but I definitely have several friends who have fewer kids than they wanted to based on their stated intentions going years back.


I think @Purplecat 's point was that when a person has both education about sex and access to contraception, most people take advantage of it. Vs the old model of having as many kids as possible because half won’t make it to adulthood and they get pregnant due to unprotected sex, having 6+ kids.

And the data shows if one moves from a county where say 4 or 5 kids is the norm to where having 1.7 kids is the norm, most will adhere to closer to the new country’s average, and certainly their offspring are way more likely. (dispelling the neo-facsist/racist myth that immigrants will “out breed” the host country).

Your issue is a separate, different one, where one is able to control how many kids they have (more or less) but may be having less because its so damn expensive for everything.

I would say one is internal choices, and the other external forces/pressures.


No disagreement there. That explains a big part of the drop in birthrates, just not all of it.


That’s the same here too, problem is that there isn’t housing security for people. Which is ultimately the biggest single factor in the birth rate declining.

They also say we can’t afford the “pension timebomb” which is a choice they have made rather than some kind of bomb we’ve been handed. Plenty of working age people, full employment, if the pension fund is undersupplied that’s because you stole from it and haven’t replaced it with surpluses.


If you end up in a situation with an extremely high retiree-to-worker ratio then you’re still going to end up in economically dire straits no matter how much money you set aside.

Money is just an abstract concept we’ve created to facilitate the exchange of goods and services. You can save up money, but you can’t save up the labor required to produce food and provide medical care and all the other services a society requires.


I think that some of it comes down to dicing what “actually want” means.

We have robust data to the effect that the number of children people actually have is lower than the number they say they want prior to or early into their potential reproductive period; but also have robust data to the effect that people who have some measure of control over their fertility rate give it a good hard shove down.

It’s not entirely clear how to divide those numbers for the purposes of “actually wanted but thwarted by circumstances” vs. “liked the idea in the abstract but changed their mind once they got close” vs. “had a vague preference but it was weak enough that circumstances that the people in the ‘thwarted’ category would have brushed past dissuaded them”.

I absolutely don’t suspect life of giving people what they want; and I suspect that chasing the delta between reported preference and actual numbers is more fruitful here than, say, investigating why we aren’t knee deep in firefighters and astronauts despite what everyone said they wanted to be when they grew up; but I’m not sure how much more, especially when having children is something that(in contexts where people get the choice) is normally tied to other things that are nearly universally aspirational(financial security, having sufficient work/life balance, presence of social support, etc.).


We’re not. Relatively young population and a lot of immigration, The pension fund issue is very different here - the government raided it to bail out, external, bondholders in banks in order to keep the German banking system upright, and are going to default on the pensions that people have paid into. That’s been their plan since the Long Recession began anyway.


I think both these statements are true:

  1. People who have access to birth control are considerably less likely to have more children than they want.
  2. The number of children people “want” is deeply influenced by their economic circumstances, and as such many people might choose to have more children if the prospect didn’t present a crippling financial burden.

The sad reality is that those things often are “aspirational,” but I hope we can all agree that they shouldn’t be. Especially the choice on whether or not to have a family. Given that literally every one of our direct biological ancestors going back millions of years was able to have a family I think that option should be treated as a (nearly) universal basic right for those that choose to do so. And society therefore needs to provide the necessary support that makes that choice possible.