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The nation’s total fertility rate (TFR) — the number of children an average woman gives birth to — has increased for three consecutive years. This is good news. But the rise occurred as the Japanese economy was expanding. The economic downturn that started last fall may have an adverse effect. The government and the private sector should strive to create economic and working conditions favorable to young people desiring to marry and have children.

The TFR went dropped to a record low of 1.26 in 2005. But it rose to 1.32 in 2006, 1.34 in 2007 and 1.37 in 2008. A TFR of 2.07 is needed to keep the size of the population constant. The health and welfare ministry points out that the number of births by women in their 30s has increased and that a decrease in the number of births by women in their 20s has slowed.

Nonetheless, the population is still shrinking. It stood at 127,692,000 as of Oct. 1, 2008, down 0.06 percent from the previous year and the first drop in three years. In 2005, the number of deaths surpassed that of births for the first time by 21,266. In 2008, there were a record 51,317 more deaths than births. It is estimated that the population will shrink to about 90 million by 2055.

The average marriage age is 30.2 for men and 28.5 for women. The tendency to marry at a later age contributes to a lower birthrate. An increase in the number of irregular workers — now one-third of the nation’s workforce — and the worsening employment situation also are contributing to the generally low birthrate. Male part-time workers in their 20s and 30s are about half as likely to be married as male full-time workers in the same age bracket. The wages of irregular workers are said to be about 60 percent of the wages of full-time workers.

If the government wants to increase the birthrate, it should place top priority on improving the employment situation for young people.

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