[Paleopsych] AFP: Japan's birth rate hits another all-time low

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Fri Jun 3 19:35:16 UTC 2005

Japan's birth rate hits another all-time low
Wed Jun 1,11:32 AM ET
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TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's birth rate dipped to a record low last year as
fewer young couples had children, the government said, fueling fears of
a shrinking workforce and a growing burden on the troubled pension system.

The average number of children a Japanese woman has during her lifetime
stood at 1.2888 in 2004, down from 1.2905 in 2003, the Ministry of
Health, Labor and Welfare said.

It was the fourth straight year that the birth rate has hit a record
low. The number of children born last year also stood at a new low, of
1,110,835, the ministry said in an annual demographic report.

The government has been alarmed by the dwindling births, which have
begun to open the sensitive debate on whether historically homogenous
Japan should open the doors to wide-scale immigration.

"It is a very low level," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told a
news conference. "I don't quite see any factor which may help improve
the figure."

The top government spokesman added that there are "many environmental
restrictions" which lead people to remain unmarried, marry late or have
a small number of children.

"We must strictly enforce measures to deal with the declining
birthrate," he said, adding that the trend is "hardly desirable for the
pension system".

With a growing number of young people saying children are a burden to
their lifestyles and careers, the government has been aiming to improve
child-care facilities and implementing other measures designed to make
child-rearing easier, especially for working women.

A social issue forum of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said in a
statement that the country has to deal with the issue "as a top priority

The birth rate, calculated on children born to women aged between 15 and
49, has been steadily declining since 1973, when it peaked at 2.14 at
the height of the country's second post-war baby boom.

In early 2002, the government forecast the rate to bottom out at 1.306
in 2007 and recover to 1.39 by 2050.

Japan's population is forecast by the government to fall back from a
peak of 127.8 million in 2006 due to dwindling births.

An official at the ministry's division on demographic statistics said
that the rate might bounce back when women from the second baby boom in
the early 1970s begin having children in the coming years.

"There is a bright factor. We must look at the matter from a long-range
view," he said.

But the ministry's report showed that the average age of women at the
time of their first childbirths has been steadily rising to reach 28.9
years last year.

The average age of women's first marriages edged up 0.2 years from 2003
to 27.8 years last year -- up a full year over five years.

Last year, despite opposition filibustering, Japan's ruling coalition
rammed through legislation to overhaul the pension system, which is
creaking under the strain of a graying society.

The new law requires the public to pay more in pension premiums and for
fewer pension benefits. In an opinion poll, some 70 percent of voters
disapproved of the bill.

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