Ever since 1950 when Japan began tracking its population of children, the number has never been as low as it is today.
New data from the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry finds the population shrank by 170,000 kids from this time last year, to a new low of 15.71 million, The Japan Times reports.
This is the 36th consecutive year the population has dropped.
Japan’s fertility crisis has been many years in the making. As older generations start to die off without younger generations starting families behind them, economists say Japan shows all the signs of a “demographic time bomb.”
Without any intervention, Japan’s economy will only continue to shrink.
“We will continue to put efforts into support for child-rearing,” welfare minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki told The Japan Times in December of last year.
Japan’s fertility rate is among the lowest in the world, at just 1.4 births per woman. Sociologists have found populations stay steady when a country has at least 2.1 births per woman. Beneath that threshold, and countries are likely to see their populations start to decline, which Japan has.
The trend has also led to another record-low, according to the new data: Japan’s ratio of children to the rest of the population is just 12.4%. That marks the 43rd straight year of declines and places Japan’s ratio at the very bottom of countries with 40 million people or more.
Other countries do face similar problems, including the US, Denmark, China, and Singapore — with fertility rates of 1.87, 1.73, 1.6, and 0.81, respectively — although Japan’s case may be the most severe.
A 2016 study conducted by a Japanese research firm found that nearly 70% of unmarried Japanese men and 60% of unmarried Japanese women weren’t in relationships. This is despite most people claiming they do want to get married eventually.
Japan has gone to some great lengths to boost its fertility rate to the goal of 1.8 births per woman by 2025, as set by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
In the meantime, the time bomb has forced Japan to recognise the importance of innovation more than ever — specifically, with robotics technology. Without strapping youngsters to do the work, machines may be the next best thing.