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“Catastrophe” is one of the words most frequently used to describe Japan’s demographic situation: an aging society full of sexless couples having fewer and fewer babies. Fertility is below replacement level, births are being delayed — but is the situation as desperate as the media paints it? No, the data suggest. In fact, the picture is improving.

Japan has never made it into the “top 10” of countries with the lowest total fertility rates (TFR) — the average number of children a woman bears over her lifetime. And since 2005, when it bottomed out at 1.26 births per woman, the TFR has been slowly but steadily growing, although the government is predicting what it hopes is a slight blip — a 0.01-point dip — for 2015. According to the World DataBank, in 2013 (the latest year for which full data — not just estimates — are available) Japan, with its 1.43 TFR, was doing better than South Korea and Singapore (both 1.19), Hong Kong (1.12) and Germany (1.38).

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