Population now on track to start shrinking in 2006, not 2007: report

by Reiji Yoshida

Japan’s population will start shrinking next year and not in 2007 as was earlier projected and could be half of what it is now in a century, if the birthrate continues to decline at the current pace, according to a government report released Friday.

If the current fall continues and things remain constant, the size of the population is projected to drop to 64.0 million in 2100 from a high of 127.7 million in 2006, the 2005 annual paper on the declining birthrate says.

The total fertility rate plunged to a record low of 1.29 in 2004, according to the report. The rate, an indicator used for international comparisons in birth trends in a particular year, is calculated by taking the average number of children a woman bears at each age between 15 and 49 and adding the averages together.

The government also disclosed for the first time how much society — both the public and private sectors — has spent taking care of people under age 18. In fiscal 2002, child-care costs are estimated to have totaled 38.5 trillion yen.

An additional 8.1 trillion yen was calculated in unpaid child-rearing labor at home, based on the average hourly wage of a part-time nurse. The report says 90 percent, or 7.1 trillion yen, of that home child-care was done by women.

“The burden of almost all of the child-care work in the home has been shouldered by women,” the paper says.

If the losses in job income to women who stay at home are taken into account, the costs of mothers’ work in the home would be much higher, the paper says, adding that it is one of the key factors that has kept pushing down the country’s fertility rate.

The 38.5 trillion yen child-care costs account for 10.4 percent of the country’s final consumption in 2002, the report says. Of the 38.5 trillion yen, about half came from the public sector, and of those public costs, two-third was spent on schools.

More women are having children later in their lives, according to the report.

In 1975, 79 percent of newborns’ mothers were in their 20s, but in 2004, 51 percent of babies’ moms were in their 30s. In 2004, the average age at which a woman had first child was 28.9, and the age she had her second child was 30.9.

The white paper also warns that public welfare spending on children is disproportionately small when compared with that for elderly people.

Of the 84.3 trillion yen social welfare benefits for fiscal 2003, 59.0 trillion yen, or 70 percent of the total, were for the elderly, while those for children and their families was only 3.0 trillion yen, or about 4 percent.

“The average benefit amount for an elderly person was 2.47 million yen, while average benefits for a child are 170,000 yen” for the fiscal year, the paper says. “This means social support for children is extremely small.”

The annual report was first published last year as the government is growing concerned about the future. The rapidly graying society and shrinking birthrate could have a strong negative impact on the economy and increase welfare payments for future generations.