Japan’s not the only developed nation faced with an aging population, but is unique in that its total population is on the decline. A recent draft version of Basic Policies for Economic and Fiscal Management and Reform, released by the Japanese government last week, sets a goal of keeping the population above 100 million for the next fifty years. But considering how difficult it will be to manage such a feat, it’s surprising how little seems to be on the table.

Draft proposals ignore immigration, single parents as part of the solution

“The draft calls for drastic measures to address Japan’s low birthrate – including the creation of an environment that encourages families to have three or more children and the allocation of greater state funds for child-raising and education,” write Credit Suisse analysts Hiromichi Shirakawa and Takashi Shiono.

The draft never mentions changes to immigration policy, and seems confined to the idea of increasing the birthrate by encouraging marriage, a restriction that the Credit Suisse report follows.

“We ignore changes in the number of children born to unmarried mothers and assume that changes in the total fertility rate are determined by changes in the proportion of married women and changes in the number of children born to married women,” they write.

Marriage rate in Japan fell sharply

This is a bizarre assumption. The marriage rate in Japan fell sharply in the 70s and has drifted down ever since, while the average age of marriage has increased by five years for men and six years for women. Not that there’s anything wrong with encouraging marriage, but addressing the issues that face single mothers and single women thinking about becoming mothers seems like an important part of the solution.

japan mother age first child 0614

japan marriage rate and age 0614

Even if the scope was widened to include single women, it doesn’t seem plausible for Japan to increase its fertility rate fast enough to prevent a demographic crunch. The birth rate was on the rise between 2004 and 2012 before it started to slip again, but it would actually need to go higher than it’s been in 30 years keep the population above 100 million for the next half century.

japan pop estimate 0614

japan fertility rate 0614

Immigration reform seems inevitable

Hiromichi and Takashi conclude that keeping the population above 100 million will require 80% of Japanese women to marry before the age of 30 and then have an average of four children, which is both hard to imagine and conflicts with the Japanese government’s aim of getting more women into the workforce (again ignoring single women in their analysis) or significantly changing immigration policies to bring in more young people.