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News Navigator: Were less than 1 million children born in Japan last year?

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the decreasing birthrate in Japan following the latest government report on the number of births in the country in 2016.

Question: How many babies did women in Japan have in 2016?

Answer: The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announced that the number of children born in Japan last year is estimated at 981,000. This number is based on preliminary figures up until October of last year, collected from the population survey report. This marks the first time since 1899 when the government began collecting statistical data that the number of births has fallen below 1 million. In the roughly 40 years since the number of births rose to over 2 million during the second baby boom from 1971 to 1974, the number of births has decreased by over half.

Question: I heard that the birthrate has been increasing lately, so why is the number of children decreasing?

Answer: This is because the number of women who are of childbearing age is also decreasing. While women who belong to the second baby boom generation have reached their 40s, the number of women in their 20s and 30s who make up the main childbearing population is largely decreasing.

The "total fertility rate," which corresponds to the number of children that a woman will give birth to over her lifetime, returned to the level of 20 years ago in 2015, at 1.45 children. However, even the rate grows just by a little, it cannot make up for the overall decrease in the amount of childbearing women. Additionally, more people delaying marriage until later in life, an increase in the age at which women have their first child and people who choose not to marry are all factors related to the drop in the number of births.

Q: So what is going to happen to the birthrate in the future?

A: Currently there are 14 million women in their 20s and 30s. That number is estimated to fall to 10 million over the next 20 years, so the number of births will no doubt continue to fall as well. The rate of deaths is also continuing to increase, so the decrease in the population of Japan will continue for a long time.

The government has implemented childbearing and childrearing support as some measures against the falling birthrate, but there is a need for everyone to work together to create a society that takes into account the decreased birthrate. (Answers by Taizo Yamada, Medical Welfare News Department)

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