Japan expects record low number of newborns in 2020
Can AI matchmaking help Japan boost its flagging birth rate?
- The government plans to allocate US$19 million in the next financial year to back local authorities that run schemes to help their residents find love
- Japan’s fertility rate was 1.36 last year, one of the world’s lowest and far below the rate needed to maintain its population
The number of births in 2019 was down 5.8 per cent to around 865,000, the lowest annual figure ever: a drop in the number of marriages and a rise in the age of marriage both played a part.
In a country with a long history of human matchmakers, local governments have already moved on to AI matching systems to pair people up, but many only consider criteria such as income and age and only produce results if there is an exact match.
The latest envisaged central government funding will allow access to systems which pair people with a potential partner even if those income or age wishes do not match, the Yomiuri newspaper reported. A cabinet official said that although it might not conjure thoughts of romance, AI tech can match a wider and smarter range of potential suitors.
“We are especially planning to offer subsidies to local governments operating or starting up matchmaking projects that use AI,” he said. “We hope this support will help reverse the decline in the nation’s birth rate.”
A number of Japanese prefectures have already introduced such systems, which take hobbies and values into account and produce a wider range of results, but they can be costly.
Saitama, just north of Tokyo, spent 15 million yen (US$144,000) in the year to March 2019 but only saw some 21 couples head to the altar. Government data shows the number of marriages fell by 200,000 in Japan from 2000 to last year.
The national government will guarantee roughly 60 per cent of the cost of the more elaborate AI systems, out of 2 billion yen it is requesting to fight the falling birth rate in next year’s fiscal budget, the Yomiuri reported.
“We’re just disbursing money to fight the falling birth rate, it’s up to the local governments how to spend it,” said the cabinet official.
Japan’s fertility rate – the number of children a woman is expected to have in her lifetime – was 1.36 last year, one of the world’s lowest and far below the rate needed to maintain a population.
Additional reporting by Reuters