Most of the coverage of Japan’s aging population focuses on the current low birth rate and its implications for the future. In January, prime minister Fumio Kishida told legislators that the country is “on the brink of not being able to maintain social functions” because of its falling birth rate. “In thinking of the sustainability and inclusiveness of our nation’s economy and society, we place child-rearing support as our most important policy,” he said.
But even if the government succeeds in goosing the birth rate, the effects will be felt decades from now. Japan has an immediate problem that dates back to policies adopted in 1948. People over 75 now make up 15 percent of the population, and they don’t have a lot of kids to take care of them. Japan’s postwar baby boom lasted only about two years. By contrast, the U.S. experienced high birth rates from 1946 to 1964.
In 1948, the Diet passed the Eugenic Protection Law. It made abortions legal and cheap, about $10. “Critics assert that it is easier for a woman to avoid an unwanted child in this way than to have her tonsils removed,” The New York Times reported in 1964. “One result of the practice has been the virtual elimination of illegitimate births.”