REALity February 2018 –
The number of Japanese children born in 2017 is the lowest since records of births began in 1899.
This reduction in births is a result of the decrease in marriages in Japan in 2017. Approximately 607,000 were married, which was roughly 13,000 less than in 2016. This was the fifth straight annual decline, and the lowest number of people getting married since the end of World War II.
There were 941,000 Japanese children born in 2017, compared with a peak of almost 2.7 million during the baby boom that followed World War II. This decline has implications for everything from the economy, pensions, national defence and the general sustainability of the nation.
The Japanese government is scrambling to halt this population decline. It is encouraging industry to keep older workers working and encouraging families to have more children. It is even discussing an increase in immigration. This is not a very popular policy, however, as the Japanese, historically, have wanted to keep their population stream unadulterated.
Unfortunately, efforts to encourage mothers to have more children are not having much effect. The latest figures show that Japanese mothers are getting older and women choose to marry much later in life after establishing careers. These are factors contributing to the lack of births. Nonetheless, the Japanese government is stepping forward to encourage births by providing free pre-school, private high school and university education. The government hopes that a strong economy, combined with measures to make it easier for moms to combine work and child bearing might alleviate the situation.
Elderly Most Affected by Population Decline
The group most affected by the population decline, however, is the elderly. Although Japan is traditionally known for its low crime rates, elderly criminals in Japan are on the rise. Oddly, almost a quarter of elderly former prison inmates are back in prison, within two years of their being released, compared to the average return rate of 18% for all others.
The reason for this strange phenomenon, of the elderly in Japan filling the prisons and then returning to prison, is due to increased poverty among this age group. That is, most of the individuals over 65 years in Japanese prisons are there because they have deliberately committed petty crimes, such as shoplifting or theft in order to gain access to prisons in order to alleviate their economic hardships, according to the Japan Times.
As a result, Japanese prisons are increasingly like nursing homes. The growing numbers of elderly criminals have led to the Japanese government approving a plan in 2017 to assign nursing care staff to about half of Japan’s prisons.
It’s not that living in a prison is all that pleasant for the elderly. Talking is forbidden while at work in prisons, inmates must walk single file, and bathing is restricted. Despite this, prisons apparently compare favourably to a lonely life with little food and poor, unheated accommodation. Prisons, at least, offer free food, warm accommodation and healthcare.
The latest figures show that 27.3% of the Japanese current population is over 65 years of age, and this is expected to increase to 37.7% in 2050.