Monday, April 02, 2018

Japan's Declining Population

While much debate focused on overpopulation, less is said of the low fertility and an ageing population. 

 Japan has seen its population rapidly diminish in recent years. Japan’s fertility rates were approximately 2.75 children per woman in the 1950s, well above the total fertility rate of 2.1 which has been determined to help sustain stable populations. Today, Japan’s birth rate is 1.44 children per woman leading to the population declining by one million in the past five years alone. If the trend continues, Japan’s population is expected to decrease from 126 million today to 88 million in 2065 and 51 million by 2115.

With fewer children and young adults, a vicious cycle is set in motion: spending decreases which weakens the economy, which dispels families from having children, which then weakens the economy further. As the population aged 18 years old is decreasing, the number of universities needs to be reduced, which will limit the number of new academic posts, lack the opportunity to cultivate researchers, and diminish Japan’s competitiveness in the international arena, At the same time, as people have a higher life expectancy, the elderly now make up 27 percent of Japan’s population in comparison to 15 percent in the United States. This means less revenues and higher expenditures for the government, less funds for pensions and social security, and an even weaker economy.
Though the unemployment rate is below 3 percent, the rise in unstable employment may be leaving young men and women unable or unwilling to have children. Approximately 40 percent of Japan’s labor force is “irregular,” or have temporary or part-time jobs with low salaries. According to the Labor Ministry, irregular employees earn 53 percent less than those with stable jobs. Men, who are still considered breadwinners for the family unit, may therefore be less likely to consider getting married or having children because they can’t afford to do so. On the other end of the spectrum, Japan’s culture of overwork may also be impacting birth rates as young people find themselves with no time for a social life or even basic needs like sleeping or eating. Such conditions have even led to “karoshi,” or death by overwork, across the country.
In 1950, 53 percent of the population lived in urban areas; by 2014, the figure shot up to 93 percent. Japanese rural towns are disappearing at a rapid rate as young adults move to cities for work and the ageing population either moves out or dies out. Wild boars are now found to be taking over the abandoned areas.
Shinzo Abe’s government has begun working on the issue in recent years, promising to raise the fertility rate to 1.8 by 2025. They have also taken steps to make it easier for people to raise children by providing free education, expanding nursery care, and allowing fathers to take paternity leave. Local governments have even set up speed-dating services across the country.

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