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Fertility decline in Japan - statistics & facts

Japan is one of the few super-aged societies in the world and has faced a prolonged fertility decline for decades. Following the end of World War II, the nation experienced swift economic growth, vast improvements in the health care system, and a subsequent baby boom (1947-1949). After the second baby boom (1971-1974), however, Japan saw a downturn in total fertility rate (number of children born per woman of child-bearing age). This downward trend was mainly attributed to the economic recession from the 1973 oil crisis and the social shifts. The rate continued to decline in the 1980s and the 1990s, partially due to an accelerated female employment rate and rising average marital age after the enactment of the Equal Employment Opportunity Law in 1985. In 2005, the total fertility rate marked the lowest rate in history of 1.26 and increased concern for the country’s demographics. The rate slightly recovered over the following years and recorded 1.36 in 2019.

Challenges and countermeasures

Only around two percent of the total number of newborns are born outside of marriage in Japan. Therefore, the government considers the declining marriage rate to be one of the direct factors to determine the country’s birth rate trend. As of 2019, about 4.8 marriages per 1,000 inhabitants were newly registered in Japan, the second-lowest historically. Younger citizens often list financial burdens as the main argument against marriage. As a countermeasure, municipalities currently offer marriage funds to a newly married couple aged 34 years or younger with a low annual household income.

The reluctance of young Japanese to have children is further attributed to a perceived inadequacy of child-rearing support in the country. Some business establishments in Japan, for example, provide no parental leave. Additionally, there is a high peer pressure within a company to be an “engaged employee,” and consequently, of employees with newborns, only about 83 percent of female employees and seven percent of male employees took parental leave in 2019. These numbers also indicate the imbalance of child-rearing responsibilities between men and women in general. The government promotes the active participation of fathers in parenting and proposes reforms to improve the work-life balance of employees who are parents irrespective of gender. Kindergarten and nursery centers also became free of charge for all children aged three to five years and for children aged zero to two years in low-income households effective from 2019. The shortage of nursery centers is, nonetheless, persisting, with many children across the nation still on the waiting lists to be accepted.

Infertility treatment

The first baby in Japan that resulted from external fertilization was born in 1983. Since then, infertility treatment is becoming increasingly common following the older average age of couples trying to conceive. Nearly 57 thousand live births, one in 16 newborns, were the outcome of assisted reproductive technology (ART) in 2018. The most used and successful procedure of ART in the last decade has been frozen embryo transfer (FET), which utilizes frozen embryos that were produced in the previous cycle of in vitro fertilization (IVF). As of 2021, all infertility treatments, excluding timing therapy, are not covered by health insurance. A report from the health ministry in 2020 revealed that the median price of one cycle of IVF (frozen embryo) was about 430 thousand to 580 thousand Japanese yen. The government is currently discussing changes to the insurance coverage of infertility treatments to reduce the financial strain on couples trying to get pregnant. The government announced in July 2021 to apply fast-track approval for related medications that are internationally certified to reach the final settlement concerning health insurance coverage promptly.


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