Something blue: Pandemic wedding plunge adds to Japan demographic woes

TOKYO (Reuters) - The number of marriages in Japan tumbled amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, the health ministry said on Monday, likely adding to the wealthy nation’s low birth rate and ageing population problems.

Japan last year saw 537,583 marriages, a 12.7% fall from a year earlier - the biggest percentage drop since a 15.1% tumble in 1950, when a post-World War Two marriage boom began to fizzle out, the ministry said.

Unlike in some Western countries, in Japan only a few out of every 100 babies are born out of wedlock, suggesting a stronger correlation between the number of marriages and the number of babies born.

Some couples postponed their weddings to wait until large gatherings like wedding receptions can be held again, while others hit by economic difficulties in the pandemic must have given up on marriage altogether, said Takumi Fujinami of the Japan Research Institute.

“Chances are high that the decline in marriages in 2020 will weigh down the number of child births for a certain period from this year onward,” Fujinami said.

“I hear many women have lost jobs during the pandemic, but not much social security is there for these people, or for young people in general and those who are newly married. It’s about time, I think, to think hard about these issues.”

The number of babies born every year in Japan nearly halved over the 40 years to 2019, leading former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to call the phenomenon a “national crisis”.

A declining birth rate and the longevity of the elderly have made the country the world’s most aged society, with 35.9 million people - 28% of the population - aged 65 or above.

Daily COVID-19 cases in Japan have been in decline in recent weeks after peaking in early January, although Tokyo and nine other prefectures are still under a state of emergency.

Japan has recorded about 426,000 infections and 7,549 related deaths, according to public broadcaster NHK.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Hugh Lawson