(Economist) Asia’s advanced economies now have lower birth rates than Japan

Japanese fertility is still ultra-low compared with almost any society in human history. Yet it is now higher than that of any well-off East Asian or South-East Asian economy. The numbers in Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan ranged between 0.8 and 1.1 in 2020 (see chart). Nor is this a temporary blip caused by the pandemic: Japan’s figure was higher than all those countries in 2019, too.

Rich, baby-averse Asian countries in the region have three things in common. First, their people rarely have children outside marriage. Only around 2% of births in Japan and South Korea are to unmarried mothers, the lowest levels in the oecd, a club of rich countries. In wealthy Western countries that figure is typically between 30% and 60%. In China, the few who become pregnant out of wedlock are often denied benefits. The region’s decline in births has closely tracked a decline in marriages. The age at which people commit to a lifetime of entanglement has also been rising, further delaying child-bearing.

A second shared factor is expensive schooling. Pricey private tutoring and other wallet-emptying forms of “shadow education”, as such extras are known, are common in East Asia. The most frequent reason cited by Japanese couples for having fewer children is the cost of raising and educating them. Lucy Crehan, an education researcher, says that these problems might be even worse in other parts of Asia. Japanese pupils face their first high-stakes exams only at the age of 15. In contrast, children in Shanghai and Singapore must take such tests as early as primary school, piling on the parental pressure to perform and adding to the family’s tuition bills.

Yet it is the third factor that might explain why Japan is out-sprogging its rich Asian peers. A flurry of research in recent years suggests that high house prices cause young couples to delay having children.

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Posted in Aging / the Elderly, Asia, Children, Marriage & Family