Since reaching a total fertility rate (TFR) of 1.57 in 1989, Japan has been deeply concerned about demographic trends and future prospects. Below replacement fertility — measured as less than 2.1 children per woman — has been a feature of Japanese demography since 1974.

Many well-intentioned policies have failed to alter consistently low fertility for almost four decades with the TFR currently around 1.4. The Democratic Party of Japan's child allowance reforms were a casualty of the March 11 disasters. The increased payments were crucial promises made during the 2009 national elections. Low economic growth, the financial and psychological costs of reconstruction, anxiety about the future and the paucity of new policy measures offer little hope for Japan's demographic future.

It is time for Japan to rethink policy responses to low fertility. It is widely believed that there is an association between low economic growth and anxiety over the low birthrate. But it should be remembered that fertility fell in Japan even during the 1980s, a time usually recognized as prosperous.