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Society

Japan births hit new low of 842,000 during pandemic

Little sign of recovery in sight despite reopening of economy

Early results for fiscal 2021 show a 1.3% decrease on the year in births. (Photo by Wataru Ito)

TOKYO -- Births in Japan have fallen for a 14th straight year, plumbing a new low, government data shows, with little sign of improvement in recent months.

Preliminary results for fiscal 2021 indicate a 1.3% decrease on the year to 842,131 births, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare reported Tuesday.

The data spans the year ended March 2022, when the coronavirus pandemic put a damper on social life in a country where policymakers were already struggling to encourage new families.

Marriages, a key factor that determines future births, fell 0.6% to 525,273. Although the decrease was less sharp than the previous year, the number failed to return to the pre-COVID-19 level of fiscal 2019.

"Births are down even more than they were during the period when the COVID-19 impact was the greatest and are approaching the low end of estimates by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research," said Takuya Hoshino, an economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

Japan has ended most of its pandemic-related restrictions on dining out and other gatherings, but the economy has been slow to recover, and many people are still feeling the effects of income lost during the pandemic.

While Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's government has proposed an expansion of support for child rearing, specific measures, and how to fund them, remain undecided.

Graying Japan also faces a labor shortage linked to fewer people entering the workforce. Even if government support measures are successful and births begin to recover, it would take about 20 years for a new generation to begin replenishing needed workers in construction, health care and other fields.

Japan's demographic challenges even drew a recent tweet from Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The billionaire warned that "Japan will eventually cease to exist" unless births exceed deaths.

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