Fertility rate up but population still shrinking

Kyodo News

2006 saw the nation’s fertility rate rise for the first time in six years, reaching 1.32, up 0.06 point from a record low of 1.26 in 2005, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said in a report released Wednesday.

Health ministry officials attributed the 2006 rise to rising numbers of marriages and births in the wake of the nation’s economic recovery, which has improved labor conditions. However, some experts have said the 2006 rise is only a reaction to the unexpectedly sharp decrease in 2005.

The 2006 figure also marks the first rise in four years to the 1.3 level, but the rate is no cause for celebration. The population is still shrinking and the report points out, “The long-term trend of a decreasing population of children remains unchanged.”

To maintain the current population, Japan needs to have a fertility rate — the average number of children born to each woman over her lifetime — of 2.07. The 2002 government forecast warned the population will decline by nearly half to 64 million in 2100 if the rate remains at the current level.