Japan’s births just fell to a new record low. Tokyo hopes a dating app can turn that around

By Jessie Yeung and Himari Semans, CNN

Tokyo CNN  — 

Japan’s fertility rate, which has seen a precipitous fall for many years, has reached another record low as the government ramps up efforts to encourage young people to get married and start families — even launching its own dating app.

The nation of 123.9 million people only recorded 727,277 births last year, according to new data released by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare on Friday. The fertility rate – defined as the total number of births a woman has in her lifetime – dropped from 1.26 to 1.20.

For a population to remain stable, it needs a fertility rate of 2.1. Anything above that will see a population expand, with a large proportion of children and young adults, as seen in India and many African nations.

But in Japan, the fertility rate has been well below that stable marker of 2.1 for half a century, experts say – it fell below that level after the 1973 global oil crisis pushed economies into recession, and never recovered.

The downward trend has accelerated in recent years, with the number of deaths overtaking births each year and causing the total population to shrink – with far-reaching consequences for Japan’s workforce, economy, welfare system and social fabric.

In 2023, the country recorded 1.57 million deaths, according to the Health Ministry – more than double the number of births.

And Japan’s not having much matrimonial luck, either – the number of marriages fell by 30,000 last year, while the number of divorces rose.

Experts say the decline is expected to continue for at least several decades and is to some extent irreversible due to the country’s population structure. Even if Japan were to boost its fertility rate tomorrow, its population will keep falling until the skewed ratio of young people to older adults balances out.

Still, the government is now racing to soften the impact, launching new government agencies to focus specifically on this problem. It has launched initiatives such as expanding child care facilities, offering housing subsidies to parents, and in some towns, even paying couples to have children.

In the capital Tokyo, local officials are trying a new tack: launching a government-run dating app, which is in early testing phases and will be fully operational later this year.

“Please use it as ‘the first step’ to begin marriage hunting,” the app’s website says, adding that the AI-matchmaking system is provided by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

Users are asked to take a “values diagnostic test” but there’s also an option to put in the desired traits of a future partner.

“Based on your values and the values you seek in a partner, which can be determined by taking a diagnostic test, AI will introduce you to a compatible person,” it said. “What cannot be measured by appearance or conditions alone may lead to unexpected encounters.”

The app even caught the eye of billionaire Elon Musk, who wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “I’m glad the government of Japan recognizes the importance of this matter. If radical action isn’t taken, Japan (and many other countries) will disappear!”

Experts have told CNN this scenario is unlikely – the fertility rate is expected to even out at some point, and the country will adjust. Japan may look very different at that point, from its demographic makeup to its economy and domestic policies, but it won’t simply vanish.

“Marriage is a decision based on one’s own values, but the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is working to build momentum for marriage so that those who think they ‘intend to get married eventually’ can take that first step,” says the dating app’s website.

Users must be single, over 18 years old “with a desire to get married,” and be living or working in Tokyo, the website says.

It also lists the government’s other measures to support couples – such as providing information on work-life balance, child care and housing support, men’s participation in housework and child-rearing, and career counseling.

“We hope that every single one of you who wishes to get married will think about what being in a ‘couple’ means to you,” it says.

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