“I’d like to get people more excited about marriage as a trend, and see lots of new couples come together in time to enjoy the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo.”
These were the remarks with which Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike greeted the crowd at the first “Tokyo Enmusubi Day,” a pro-wedding event hosted by the city in March of 2017.
Politicians and various experts have taken to organizing not only matchmaking events like these, but a wide variety of programs and proposals under the banner of “Stop Shoushika.”
In today’s Japan however, trying to throw the brakes on the declining birth rate proves extremely difficult. Even if we concede that stopping the decline is possible, we must acknowledge that it would only be possible in the distant future.
Some hopefuls say, “The next baby boom might be just around the corner,” but the truth is a baby boom alone isn’t going to alter the country’s current course.
We’re prone to assume that an improvement in the total fertility rate would lead to an increase in the number of babies born, but in fact, the numbers still add up to a net decrease.
Let’s take a look at why that is.
To date, the declining birth rate has reduced the number of female children, and with it the number of future potential mothers.
The current generation of girls is less than that of previous generations, and as a consequence the number of women able to birth children in the future will see a drop on a grand scale. This is the reason that "shoushikoureika" will not stop.
A detailed look at the future estimated population of women in the childbearing age range makes it abundantly clear.
The number of women who matriculate to four year universities and find employment after graduation has increased, so for our purposes, let’s start by imagining that the age range for a woman to bear children is between 25 and 39 years old, then look into the corresponding population figures.
According to the 2015 national census, there were 10,870,000 women in Japan within that age range, but by 2040, that number will fall to 8,140,000, roughly 75% of the 2015 figure. By 2065, that figure falls again to 6,120,000, close to half of the population in 2015 (as estimated by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research).
The total fertility rate (TFR) for Japan in 2015 was a very low 1.45. Even if we assume that shoushika counter measures succeed as intended and TFR increases, the number of women becoming mothers has still been reduced to half, meaning the number of babies born will not increase.
Perhaps if Japan returned to the family structure of generations past, with one couple raising five or six children, things would be different, but for a modern, mature Japan, a resurgence of such a “fertility centered society” is hard to imagine.