Slight Increase in Japan's Birth Rate
TOKYO - Japanese births rose for the first time in six years in 2006, according to government statistics announced Monday, offering a glimmer of hope for a rapidly aging society.
Japan's population of 127 million shrank in 2005 for the first time on record, mostly due to a steadily falling birth rate, raising the prospect of a severe labor shortage and difficulties in paying the health bills and pensions of large numbers of elderly.
But preliminary data for 2006 showed there were 1.086 million births in Japan last year, 23,000 more than the previous year, the Health Ministry said Monday.
Based on that data, the daily Yomiuri Shimbun calculated the birth rate for last year at 1.29 babies per women, up slightly from a record low of 1.26 in 2005. Despite the increase, the rate is still far below the 2.1 rate needed to keep the population steady.
The figures also showed that 732,000 couples were married last year, 18,000 more than in 2005, while divorces fell by 4,000 to 258,000.
Japan has been scrambling to implement measures to persuade couples to have more children.
A proposal adopted in June calls for increasing child care, promoting greater gender equality, and encouraging companies to be more flexible in allowing staff time to take care of family responsibilities.
But the high cost of raising children, as well as the lingering notion that women should quit their jobs after giving birth, has meant many opt to have few or no children.
It would be interesting to find out what contributed to the increase. In any case, if the trend continues, Japan will soon attain replacement rate.