Ever since 1899 when Japan began collecting data on how many babies are born each year, the total has never fallen below 1 million.
With a week left in the year, officials predict only 981,000 babies will have been born — a dip of 25,000 from 2015. The death count, meanwhile, is around 1.3 million.
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.
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.
Other countries 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 young humans to do the work, machines may be the next best thing.