WASHINGTON — Japan's efforts to raise fertility through changes to the child allowance present a fragile and troubling vision for the future.

Japan's demographic malaise is hardly unique. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010 it shared a total fertility rate (TFR) of 1.2 with South Korea and is marginally higher than Taiwan and Singapore at 1.1.

TFR is an estimate of the number of children a woman is likely to have during her reproductive years. The level of national replenishment, or what demographers call "replacement," is 2.1.