Could Japan Become Anti-Child as Population Declines?

Could Japan Become Anti-Child as Population Declines?

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Woman questioning herself while pregnant
Picture: metamorworks / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
More people are remaining single and childless than ever in Japan. Could that feed into existing anti-child sentiments in the nation and trap it in a vicious cycle?

Once upon a time, being single in Japan after a certain age was regarded as weird, akin to a character defect. That’s changing rapidly as the population shrinks and ages.

Now, new stats show that being single may be closer to the rule than the exception. In turn, the number of childless households is on the rise. Could that movement exacerbate negative attitudes towards kids in public that are already bubbling beneath society’s surface?

More singles, less kids

Single woman enjoying food
Picture: EKAKI / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

The new statistics from Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) found that, as of June 2023, Japan had 18,495,000 people who lived by themselves. That makes singles a full 34% of households. That’s the highest percentage since the MHLW began tracking this statistic in 1986.

By contrast, the number of households with at least one child sunk to 9,835,000. That’s the lowest measure ever recorded for that metrics. The MHLW said the dual movement is the result of both population decline and a decline in the marriage rate.

Additionally, the number of elderly people living alone remains elevated at 8,553,000. That raises the specter of more incidents of people dying alone (孤独死; kodokushi), a problem that continues to rise as older people without kids have no one to check in on them.

Souring on marriage?

Japan’s population continues to drop as more people in the country decide that they don’t need kids in their lives. Beyond that, more people – particularly women – feel they don’t even need a partner.

A survey by a think tank for Juroku Bank recently surveyed 411 men and women who were starting their corporate careers. Of those, a majority of those between 26 and 30 (53.5%) said they wanted to get married. However, 9.2% said they had no interest in marriage. Of those respondents, 11.8% of women said they weren’t seeking marriage. That number’s now gone up three years in a row.


Other surveys with a wider sample size paint a grimmer picture. An Internet survey this year by Tameny of 2,769 unmarried people between their 20s and 40s found that 45.6% of those surveyed wanted to get married. 8.8% didn’t want to get married. However, an additional 31.8% of people said they had “no interest” in marriage.

Married…without children?

The trend seems clear: people want to get married as they’re younger but this sentiment dies off as they grow older and remain single. Given this, it’s no wonder that the Japanese government and prefectures are investing in dating apps and acting as matchmakers.

However, even if young people want to get married, most of them don’t want kids. A 2023 report by Rohto Pharmaceutical found that 55.2% of respondents – 59% of men and 51.1% of women – don’t desire children. That’s a reversal of 2020 numbers in which 56% of respondents wanted kids compared to the 44% who didn’t.

Percentage of men and women in Japan between ages 18 and 29 who want kids

(One silver lining in those numbers: 1 in 4 women in the childless group are keeping open the possibility they may want kids in the future.)

Part of the reason for this appears to be economic. In the Rohto survey, of the 51.1% of women who said they didn’t want kids, that number dropped to only 27.9% for women who make over 3 million yen (USD $18,664) a year.

Another reason people may not want kids, however, is the feeling among women that they don’t have much support in raising kids in Japan. This comes out in the Rohto survey, where 76.5% of women between 18 and 44 who’d given birth said that balancing work and childrearing was difficult.

Women also don’t feel they have much support at home. Most working Japanese women surveyed say they do almost all the chores at home, with their husbands limiting their contributions to taking out the trash and washing dishes.

A rise in singles culture – and anti-child sentiment?

Woman with stroller

This shifting dynamic in Japan has led to a slow but noticeable cultural shift. For years, businesses – particularly restaurants – have shifted more towards advertising to singles (おひとり様; o-hitori-sama) customers. That shift accelerated during the global health crisis as people sought to keep their social interactions with people outside of their “bubble” to a minimum.

There’s also a risk that the increasing number of singles households could lead to a rise in anti-child sentiment. As it stands, there have been a number of backlashes in recent years that left parents feeling their kids weren’t welcome in public.

Japanese parents have long reported issues with taking strollers on public transit – from rude passengers to unhelpful drivers. More recently, a controversy erupted when it seemed a Japanese city was closing a public park due to one elderly citizen’s complaint.

Additionally, the company Soup Stock Tokyo endured a public backlash when it announced it would give free baby food to parents. Some online commenters swore they wouldn’t go to Soup Stock if they had to deal with crying babies.

Granted, not having children yourself doesn’t automatically make you an anti-child curmudgeon. However, as the number of singles increases, it raises the risk of a vicious cycle in Japan. If a lack of tolerance for kids in public increases, it could make raising kids in Japan even harder – leading people to have fewer children still.

Long story short: officials who want Japan to elevate its birth rates have their work cut out for them.

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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