TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A slight improvement has been observed, but the situation is still severe. All possible measures must be taken to stop the rapid population decline and super-aging of society.
The country's total population will drop from 127.09 million in 2015 to 88.08 million in 2065, according to a new estimate released by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.
The population will dip below 100 million in 2053, five years later than in the previous estimate released five years ago. The pace of the decline slowed because the hypothetical birthrate - the main pillar of population estimates - was increased. The latest estimate reflected the fact that the birthrate among women in their 30s and 40s has been rising in recent years.
Of course, this is not a level that one can be optimistic about. The birthrate of 1.44 this time falls far short of 2.07, the level necessary to maintain the population. There is also a great gap with 1.8 - the immediate target set by the government. There is a continuing tendency for women to marry or have children later in life. The percentage of women who never marry is also expected to rise.
As a result, the population of the working generation in 2065 will see a decline of as much as 40 per cent from what it is now. The population of elderly people will rise to be as high as 38.4 per cent of the total.
The low birthrate and aging population will diminish social and economic vitality and endanger the maintenance of the social security system. The country is now mired in a vicious cycle in which such anxiety and pessimism for the future clog up its economy and in turn cause a further drop in the birthrate.
The population estimate is a mere prediction. Changing the future is possible. It is essential to accelerate measures to overcome the low birthrate with this resolve.
First of all, an environment must be created in which women can balance work and child-rearing. This is indispensable also from the viewpoint of the promotion of women's active participation in society.
The government has been securing childcare facilities with the aim of reducing the number of children on waiting lists to enroll in day care centres to zero by the end of fiscal 2017. However, this is difficult to achieve because such efforts cannot catch up with the demand increase. The government should present measures, based on the current situation, to expand the number of such facilities in a new plan it will compile in June to make sure there are no children on waiting lists for admission to day care centres.
Work style reform that centres on rectifying long working hours is also important. If both men and women work efficiently in a shorter time, they will be able to enrich their lives outside work. With household chores and child-rearing left only to women, there is no way to expect a rise in the birthrate.
Stabilising young people's economic base is an urgent task. With non-regular workers accounting for 40 per cent of all workers, a conspicuous number of young people are giving up on getting married or raising a child for economic reasons. It is necessary to further promote better treatment for non-regular employees and offer support to help change their status to regular employees.
There is no time to waste in carrying out social security reform. As the population ages, medical and nursing care expenses will balloon. A key question is how to enhance efficiency and provide high-quality services. It will also be necessary to thoroughly ensure that people, including the elderly, will share burdens commensurate with their economic strength.
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