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Japan is undergoing a crisis unlike anything it’s experienced before. Coming from a nation that fought both World Wars and faced the first atomic bomb attack in human history–that is saying a lot. Although, the danger this time isn’t developing from external threats, but rather from an internal conflict decades in the making.
Japan has a population issue. Simply put, the Japanese aren’t having enough kids to replace the populace.
According to The World Bank, an international financial institution that also tracks population trends, the amount of people in Japan aged 65 or over is a staggering 25 percent. That means one in every four people is of retirement age. This gives Japan the honor of having the highest percentage of elderly people in the world. The United States elderly population, for comparison, sits at 14 percent.
A projection in the report “An Aging World; 2015” from the U.S. Census Bureau casts some bleak projections for Japan. The report contends that while Japan’s aging make up 26 percent of the population, by the year 2050 it will be much closer to a whopping 40 percent–almost half.
The birth rate in Japan, in contrast, is incredibly low for a developed country. Sitting at a paltry eight percent, Japan also has one of the lowest birth rates in the world. According to The World Bank, the birthrate figures are taken from the number of live births per 1000 people. Again for comparison, the United States birth rate is at 14 percent. Both of these numbers were recorded in 2014, but the situation hasn’t improved since then.
The fertility replacement rate is a ratio that describes how many births must occur in order for a population to replace the older population. According to the UN, the current replacement-level fertility rate is 2.1. This number is the average amount of children a woman needs to have to replace its older generation. But Japan has a very low fertility rate at 1.4. Which means they aren’t having enough kids to replace their current population, or support the older population in retirement.
The Pew Research Center also projected numbers for the overall population of Japan in the upcoming decades. According to their study, Japan’s overall population will fall off by 10 percent by 2050, or 19 million people. An increase in the elderly population and a decrease in overall population can have devastating effects on the country if the problem isn’t addressed and fixed in the very near future.
Populations rise and fall all the time, so why is this a huge issue?
First off, and most obviously, with too many elderly and not enough workers there won’t be enough people to replace retirees in the work force. More and more people will retire and require medical care, and less and less will be able to provide for the economy.
Michael Hodin, CEO of the Global Coalition on Aging, says Japan’s inability to change their social infrastructure means that this will only turn into a worse issue.
“In the 21st Century, with this different kind of demographic, you cannot continue sustainably and [you will] certainly have challenges like economic growth,” Hodin tells BTRtoday.
There are several underlying causes for this population crisis in Japan. One of the biggest ones, simply put, is that the Japanese aren’t interested in having kids. In 2011, 61 percent of unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 34 were not in a romantic relationship, and 49 percent of women in the same age group were also single.
Japanese men have become so disinterested in the notions of marriage and families that a term has been coined to describe the trend. “Soushoku Danshi” (or “herbivores”) describes the growing number of men that aren’t interested in traditional relationships with women.
As more Japanese women enter the workforce, they are often caught between starting a family and having a career. Traditional Japanese work culture demands long hours, short vacations, and dedication to employers that lasts for decades. Maintaining a good work relationship while raising a family is almost impossible, and many Japanese women elect to forego a family life in order to continue working.
This issue has the potential to tear Japan, as the world knows it, apart. The problem is not on their shoulders alone to bear.
Japan is like a canary in a coal mine. When the world sees the bird fading, it’s a signal that we have to fix the problem together before it affects us all.