Sunday, December 18, 2005

Population decline in Japan

As I mentioned recently, Japan's population is expected to drop substantially in the coming years. According to this this Japan Times article, it's now close to being officially confimed that the drop has actually started already, a year ahead of the most recent forecasts (it was only on Friday that the Govt changed the official forecast of year of first decline from 2007 to 2006). With the annual rate of population change dropping at about 70,000 per year (and this rate may even be accelerating), there will be substantial demographic changes over the coming years. Eg at this rate, in 10 years the population will have fallen by 3.5 million, and be falling by a further 700,000 each year - this on a base population of about 130 million. The prediction for the year 2100 is a 50% decline, but this is bound to be based on on some very wishful thinking about an increase in the fertility rate. It will be interesting to see what concrete measures the Govt puts forward for adaptation and mitigation in the face of this long-term challenge.

Update 26/12

It seems likely that this "population decline" headline is slightly misleading. Even if deaths outnumber births, net immigration is likely to keep the total resident numbers rising slightly this year. Here is an article discussing the issues:

Conservatives eager to preserve what's left of Japan's "man at work, woman in the home" family model have been loathe to vastly expand the day-care system, for instance, for fear of encouraging more women to join the work force.

Another obvious possibility - loosening Japan's tight immigration laws to allow more foreigners to come here to work - has been blocked by a widespread distrust of outsiders and fear that foreigners would disrupt the country's social order.

4 comments:

EliRabett said...

Is this a good thing, a bad thing or a thing. It seems to me that depending on how it is managed, it could be any one of these.

James Annan said...

I think a lower population is in general terms a good thing. However, the likely rate of decline implies a huge demographic shift (a much much higher proportion of elderly) which I think will be difficult to manage. OTOH I don't rule out the possibility that Japan can react very decisively and quickly when necessary, despite the facade of conservatism...

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

I just wish the rest of the world could manage the same feat. There is hardly an ecological threat facing us that wouldn't be 1/4 as dangerous with 1/2 the population. I think a population of about 500 million would be quite convenient for the world, and everybody could be rich.

Kooiti Masuda said...

From the viewpoint of an imaginary pan-Asian planner, the decline is a good thing, and then Japan should accomodate many immigrants. Then Japan cannot keep the current per capita level of monetary wealth, but it is also a good thing as viewed by the pan-Asian planner. Japan is one of the best place for food production as far as natural conditions are concerned (despite of considerable frequency of typhoons). This "rice bowl" is much more stable than semi-arid "bread baskets" of North America and Australia. Only the high wage level makes Japanese agriculture internationally uncompetitive. What is needed is to assure that the prices of commodities of necessity decline at the same pace as the wage.

Such change certainly hurts scientists living here unless prices in Europe and America decline simultaneously. I will not able to buy books published at Oxford, Cambridge or Chichester.... But, then, many science books made in Asia will sell ten thousand copies, and they will have much more influence to global science than British one-thousand-sellers.

But actual Japanese politicians and opinion leaders are not likely to behave as pan-Asian planners....