Speed Reads

looking for a solution

Even with incentives, countries are finding it hard to reverse falling birth rates

China isn't the only country trying to come up with ways to boost its population.

On Tuesday, China's National Bureau of Statistics released data showing that for the first time in six decades, the country's population dropped, with deaths outnumbering births.

To increase birth rates, China has promised to improve maternal health care and introduced subsidies and tax breaks for families, and some cities have said they will give families with multiple children money to help pay for food and housing. However, South Korea shows the limits of such policies. The country has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, and even after offering free child care and housing benefits, many South Koreans who do end up having a baby say they are stopping at just one.

"I never want to have another child," Kim Ji-ye, a resident of Seoul, told BBC News. Even with "infant support care," it's "just too hard to raise even one, so I just want to focus on him."

Japan's plummeting population is being described by government officials as a "critical situation" that could hurt the country's national strength. The population has been on the decline for more than a decade, and 2022 broke the record low for births set in 2021, when just 811,622 babies were born. Japan's cost of living is high and wages are not increasing, and the government is offering subsidies for pregnancy, childbirth, and child care, hoping that this sustained support is enough to change things. For Katahira Kazumi, a mother to a 4-year-old who had considered a second child, it's not.

"We're surviving by cutting into our savings now," she told NHK. "A second child is just unthinkable for us."

In 2021, 5,800 Japanese married couples participated in a survey where more than half said they weren't having more children because of financial reasons. Matsuda Shigeki, a sociology professor at Chukyo University, told NHK the Japanese government's financial support "is only about half or even one-third of what major Western countries provide."

Nagi, a town of 5,700 in western Japan, is an outlier in the country. The fertility rate in 2019 was 2.95, well above the national average of 1.36. Parents in Nagi receive 100,000 yen ($720) for each baby born, assistance for fertility treatments, and free medical expenses for minors and lunches at elementary and middle schools. "The plans to support new parents hinge on the town's survival," Nagi official Moriyasu Eiji told NHK.