What is the most fundamental challenge confronting Japan? It must be the policy steps addressing the declining number of births in this country. If the number of births in a group of animals keeps falling, that group will likely become extinct. The 5,000-year history of mankind since the invention of letters shows that without exception, no country or region that experienced medium- and long-term population decline has ever prospered.
Among the Group of Seven countries in 2016, France had the highest total fertility rate — the average number of children born to a woman in her lifetime — at 1.96, followed by the United States and Britain at 1.80, Canada at 1.60, Germany at 1.50, Japan at 1.44 — which is 184th among the world's 203 countries — and Italy at 1.35. Japan's fertility rate is indeed quite low. Meanwhile, the fertility rate is 2.33 in India and 1.62 in China. Northern European countries have fairly high rates — Sweden at 1.85, Norway 1.72 and Denmark 1.71.
What lies behind Japan's low fertility rate? First, the social position of women is low. The United Nations gender gap index for 2018 puts Japan at 110th among the 149 countries covered — the lowest among the Group of Seven members. As illustrated by the large wage disparity between men and women, not only is the social position of women low but much of the burden of housework, child rearing and nursing care for elderly members of the family weighs heavily on women. This is the root cause of the sluggish fertility rate in this country. Accordingly, the first policy priority for us is to introduce a thorough quota system in every segment of society to shore up women's position in society.