NYTimes | A shrinking population creates ripples that are felt from the economy to politics.
With one of the lowest birthrates in the world and little immigration, Japan has seen this milestone coming for years, if not decades. Yet efforts by the government to encourage women to have more children have had little effect, and there is little public support for opening the doors to mass immigration.
“These numbers are like losing an entire prefecture,” Shigeru Ishiba, a cabinet minister in charge of efforts to revitalize Japan’s especially depopulated rural areas, said at a news conference. A handful of Japan’s 47 prefectures, administrative districts similar to provinces or states, have populations of less than a million.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe responded to the census report by reiterating a long-term goal of keeping the population from falling below 100 million. Projections by the government and international bodies like the United Nations suggest that will be difficult, however. The latest United Nations estimates suggest that Japan’s population will fall to 83 million by the end of the century, down 40 percent from its peak.
Mr. Abe’s goal depends on raising the birthrate to 1.8 children per woman, up from 1.4 now and higher than it has been since the early 1980s. Rates have, in fact, risen slightly compared with a decade ago. But with women marrying later — in part, demographers say, to avoid pressure to give up their careers — a more decisive turnaround looks far off.
Japan will not necessarily suffer just because it is smaller. Many countries with fewer people are just as prosperous, and in a country known for jam-packed rush-hour trains, there may even be benefits. Japan’s economic output has been stagnant for years, but the picture looks less dire, economists say, once a shrinking work force is taken into account.