Japan’s Demographic Disaster

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by John W. Traphagan via The Diplomat,

Japan is faced with an unprecedented population challenge that will have social, economic, and political consequences for years to come.

Last August, I wrote an article for The Diplomat  that discussed some of the issues Japan is facing in relation to population decline.  As I noted, the population has dropped for three years in a row.  Recently, the Japanese government announced that the population decrease for 2012 is expected to be 212,000—a new record—while the number of births is expected to have fallen by 18,000 to 1,033,000—also a record low.  Projections by the Japanese government indicate that if the current trend continues, the population of Japan will decline from its current 127.5 million to 116.6 million in 2030, and 97 million in 2050. This is truly astonishing and puts Japan at the forefront of uncharted demographic territory; but it is territory that many other industrial countries also are beginning to enter as well. 

Predicting the consequences of Japan's demographic shift is difficult.   And it is important to remember that these are projections; it seems to me unlikely that this trend will continue for the next century without some sort of intervening political, cultural, or economic factors that generate increased immigration or more robust fertility rates.  Indeed, there have been modest—very modest—increases in the number of foreign residents in Japan over the past twenty years, with a little over twice the number today (2,134,151) as compared to 1990 (1,075,317). Many towns have developed international centers where opportunities are developed and supported, creating contexts for interactions between local residents and foreigners such as a monthly English dinner hosted in the town where I have done fieldwork for several years. 

Government officials have often explained to me that one of the goals of these initiatives is to create contexts in which Japanese people can interact, and thus become more comfortable with, foreigners.  The widespread presence of foreign English teachers supported through the JET program and other English language programs has also meant that, unlike forty for fifty years ago, most younger Japanese have grown up regularly interacting with individuals from other countries.   At the same time, there has been some immigration of women from other Asian countries, such as the Philippines, into rural parts of Japan for the purpose of marrying men who otherwise would have had difficulties finding a wife among the native population.  These developments may allow for increased openness to immigration in the future, although for the most part, the Japanese government has remained lukewarm, at best, when it comes to allowing any significant increase in the number of permanent residents or immigrants. Naturalized Japanese citizenship remains difficult to obtain. 

While predicting the future of these demographic trends is difficult, the causes are at least somewhat decipherable.  The proximate cause of population decline in Japan are fairly clear: a low fertility combined with increased life expectancy has led to a population structure that is increasingly weighted towards older members of society.  Currently there are significantly fewer people under 30 than there are between the ages of 30 and 60.  As the population of middle-aged individuals grows older and dies, there will be far fewer people remaining behind.  In other words, the current middle-aged generation of Japanese has failed to replace itself.  The question, of course, is why?

Various studies of demographic change in Japan have linked declining fertility to other changing social factors such as increased education, delayed marriage age, more economic opportunities for women, and the expense of raising children in modern, urban societies.  All of these have played a role in reducing fertility over the past few decades.  In addition, beyond delayed marriage many Japanese have chosen not to marry and, as a result, not have children.  According to the 2010 census, 30% of all households in Japan were single, representing the largest category of household composition in the country.  A significant portion of these households were widows over the age of 65. At the same time, a not insignificant portion were women and men in both early adulthood and middle-age who have simply chosen to not get married.  In a society like Japan where child-birth out of wedlock is stigmatized, the decision not to marry also normally means that one has chosen not to have children.

Indeed, there are many women in Japan today in their forties and fifties who have opted for a career over marriage and child-rearing.  In Japan, social pressures make it difficult for women to manage a career while also raising a family.  Furthermore, recent trends suggest that both men and women are increasingly uncertain about the value of marriage and having a family.  A government survey of people between the ages of 18 and 34 in 2011 showed that over 61% of unmarried men among those surveyed lacked a girlfriend and 49.5% unmarried women had no boyfriend, the latter being a new record. Forty percent of respondents indicated that there was no need to marry and 45% of men showed no interest in "dating the opposite sex." These results, which represented significant increases over the same type of survey conducted in previous years, have raised concerns that the population problem Japan is facing will not change in the foreseeable future. 

The consequences of changing attitudes about marriage and gender roles and associated low fertility are considerable.  One problem that has arisen is that many single women are living on very low incomes and have joined the ranks of the poor.  Recent research has shown that 1 in 3 single women of working age in Japan qualify as poor and that the number of poor women in Japan is likely to increase; by 2030 it is projected that 1 in 5 women in Japan will be single. Many of these women may well be living in some level of poverty. 

Another problem Japan faces is that the general low fertility rate means there are not enough younger people paying into the national pension program, and this will cause increasing strain on government coffers as the proportion of elderly (currently about 23% of the population is over 65) continues to grow. 

Finally, the decline of the population over the next few decades, and the shortage of young people in particular, will have a significant impact on the Japanese labor force.  Questions related to how to maintain economic growth—an issue that has been at the forefront of thinking about the country for the past twenty years, due to a generally sluggish economy—with a decreasing population are both complex and on the minds of policymakers.  One obvious solution to this would be for Japan to relax immigration policies and allow for more workers, particularly healthcare workers, to enter the country.  As noted above, to date this has not been a particularly palatable solution, but this may well change as younger Japanese, with regular experience and interactions with foreigners, move into positions of power and guide policy.

An alternative to this social-centered solution of increased immigration has been raised in recent years.  Rather than relaxing immigration laws, some have proposed increasing investment in robotics as a means of addressing the conflict of a shortfall of labor with the need for workers.  This idea has been raised particularly in relation to elder care, where demand for workers has increased rapidly with the promulgation of the longer term care insurance program in 2001 and the continued growth of the elderly population.  It may well be that a technological solution to Japan’s population problem will be seen as preferable to other possible solutions.

Obviously, only time will tell.  But Japan is faced with an unprecedented population challenge that will have social, economic, and political consequences over the next century—consequences that will not only affect Japan, but also influence Japan’s trading partners as well as its political and military allies. 

There is, perhaps, no single variable in the complex web of East Asian politics more uncertain in terms of how it may influence future relations throughout the region than the fate of Japan’s population, because the manner in which that population changes over the next several decades is both difficult to predict and likely to have a profound influence in shaping the regional role Japan is able to play as a political, cultural, and economic power.

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pitz's picture

The very well-known Japanese SUKI (tm) RELIGION, The New World Religion (tm), is named the "motherfucking religion" with over two million members worldwide.  Unfortunately, like much of Japan, it is quite short of motherfuckers. 


economics9698's picture

Socialism...the biggest boner killer ever invented for high IQ people.

If they want people to breed then get rid of the welfare state. 


true brain's picture

please replace the drop in population with blacks and hispanics. that will make japan much stronger. and elect anorher obama. it will be truly wknderful.


trav777's picture

yes because we know that diversity cures everything. 

Also, listen to how HORRID it is that a population doesn't continue to grow.  GFD if it fails to grow, everything collapses.  This doesn't sound like something sustainable does it?

I will definitely move to Japan to impregnate jap chicks tho...hell yes, sign me up.

akak's picture


Also, listen to how HORRID it is that a population doesn't continue to grow.  GFD if it fails to grow, everything collapses.

I have to agree with you here Trav.  The whole tone of this idiot's thesis is "declining population = catastrophe".  Why?  What is wrong with a declining population, and why should a declining population be WORSE than a steadily growing one?  What if Japan was actually overpopulated, and is now merely reaching its ideal population level?

Similarly, where is it carved in stone that an economy MUST grow in order to be "healthy", however one choses to define healthy?  Name one organism in nature, aside maybe from cancer, that grows indefinitely and without limit.  Is THAT really the model that we as a society should be emulating?

Lore's picture

This article looks at too narrow a slice of factors.

Society will adapt. We've already changed a lot.  Seniors may have passed their peak earning years, but they continue to spend and invest and influence culture and live active and even productive lives. In many respects, the 'career' of the last generation was a kind of multi-decadal indentured servitude. Who's to say that the pension funding model can't be replaced by something much more personal and self-determined?  WE DON'T NEED THE BIG GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS OF THE LAST GENERATION. WHAT WE NEED IS TO TAKE CONTROL OF OUR OWN LIVES.

Never mind the talk of 'robotics.' Technology allows few people to accomplish more. Our measures of 'sustainability' (hate that word, no thanks to Agenda 21) need to be reconsidered. Don't let other people write your story for you. Never mind the media focus on collective, communitarian 'sustainability.' Think in terms of sustainability for yourself and your family, and you will be a lot more at ease with your future.

I wonder how much the Fukushima radiation is affecting the Japanese population. We haven't seen anything in that regard, yet I understand that radiation is still pouring out.

Calmyourself's picture

"Why?  What is wrong with a declining population"  just across the Sea of Japan there are 25 million swinging dicks who gots no bitchez..  These dicks is going to get pissed shortly and some small island nationalistic fervor ( set in motion by their masters) will set them off and they will come for a visit.  Now don't start with "China got no sealift capability"  By the time it comes to that no one will have any just  1/2 million fishing boats..  I give it 5 years..

Demography is destiny, Japan is dead, soon in historical terms to be someones colony.

Freddie's picture

A highly radioactive colony.  I like the Japanese.  They seem to be very smart but then they do really stupid things.

They have gone into debt at a race worse than the USA.    Oba-MAO and Bernake are catching up and will pass them.  The Japnese just seem to make catastrophic mistakes.  The Yakuza have so much influence. Japan built stupid money wasting projects but a better breakwater would have saved Fukashima.  There is a nuke plant north of Fuka and the breakwater was a few feet higher and was unscathed.


Seer's picture

If a bullfrog had wings...

There will always be something that goes askew.

But it's still moot.  Perpetual growth on a finite planet ain't possible.

Japan is an island, a small land mass that has WAY more people on it than can be supported with the small amounts of physical resources they have available.  So, again, how smart are they?

r3phl0x's picture

Normally, a shrinking population would make each individual wealthier in real terms. But there's a problem once the "population" as a group is in debt: there are fewer slaves to repay the excessive spending of their ancestors, and they all must work even harder, or the debt holders must take a haircut, or both.

The problem is debt *plus* a declining population.

Seer's picture

The "game" was always about growth.  But, as you clearly note, the game has gotten to the point that there's just no way out, it ain't going to hold up under contraction.

We're all going to get blasted by this.  Sadly, the age-old popular instruction manuals gave us conflicting information: go forth and multiply; the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (didn't warn of the ramifications of exponential growth)...

Marco's picture

Despite the current trade deficit, they are still in debt to themselves ...

When you state that a shrinking population makes each individual wealthier you are already ignoring the wealth distribution ... and internal debt is just an aspect of wealth distribution. So you're being inconsistent.

meizu's picture

ZH should give population scaremongering a rest, and good luck to western countries that think immigration is the answer to everything.  Ever heard of "behavioral sink"?  The present problem in Japan is mostly caused by overpopulation, not low birth rate.

strangewalk's picture

Without growth who will pay the pensions and healthcare of Japan's rapidly growing number of retirees? How will Japan defend itself economically or militarily against a rapidly growing and correspondingly assertive and aggressive China? Without growth comes little or no technological advancement in relation to international competition, which is basically what supports Japan and without which Japan couldn't even feed itself. Japan will either have to grow or die, and since the men are now all limp dicks and the women emotionally vacuous bitches, Japan will soon either need to embrace immigration, or immigrants will forcefully flood into Japan like a conquoring barbarian horde. 

Chuck Walla's picture

Its nothing importing 11 million Mexicans couldn't cure...


strangewalk's picture

A new race is born--the Mexijap, or the Japican? 

WhiteNight123129's picture

Well, for once Trav I agree with you. Have the guys since the level of pollution around the world and resources constraints. Every other OECD nation should follow the lead of Japan. That is the responsible thing to do. Shrink the population.

Population and Pollution might have the same ethymological root!


SokPOTUS's picture

You'll have to fight me for 'em trav...


AlaricBalth's picture

12 Trillion USD in Japanese debt, plus whatever is accumulated over the coming years, is going to get awfully burdensome for a population that is going to decline by 24%. No wonder the Bank of Japan has decided to join the global print-fest.

Bicycle Repairman's picture

Japan is a very crowded country.  Reductions in populations save the planet.  The Japanese are saving the planet.  Why can't you just be happy and accept it?

lincolnsteffens's picture

Coming to a country near you. Must have been part of the NWO plan putting a cluster of nuke plants on the coast over a major fault line. Oh, wait... isn't there one in our most populous state? Hmmmmmmmm.... Perfect plan for a "Beneficial Corporation" to establish a nuke power plant near you.

I know, I must be getting to be a conspiracy theorist. It could be the on line company I've been keeping.

trav777's picture

yeah, they put that plant there KNOWING that 40 fucking years later, an earthquake would happen ON ANOTHER FAULT LINE TOTALLY ELSEWHERE and wipe it out with a tsunami.

You fucking idiot

chindit13's picture

I wasn't sure you were the old trav7777, as the style and demonstrated cynical intellect did not seem the same as before.  I have been waiting for your old buddy Cliff to come along and render the final verdict.  After this comment here, however, Cliff isn't needed.

Order has returned to the world.

willwork4food's picture

...Did Trav just get DISSED?  ;-)

strangewalk's picture

Reducing population levels is not the answer. Our planet could very easily and comfortably support over 20 times its current population, and possibly 1000 times, while having zero poverty, pollution or crowding and no water or food shortages. The problem relates to mismanagement, incompetence and greedy shorsightedness over the way our current living arrangements are carried out and organized.

This is an intro: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhVWNwCRpKg&feature=youtu.be

philipat's picture

Most normal societies would rectify the problem by allowing immigration to make up the numbers. But in xenophobic Japan, their prescious racial purity is far too important.

Seer's picture

Well, there may be some truth to that, though I don't profess to know the Japanese culture that well.

Perhaps, and I'd think that this is the more relevant issues, their country cannot support more people?  The cost of living can only keep going up as energy becomes tighter (regardless of the nuke situation, which has managed to show that the financial sector isn't the king when it comes to externalization of risk).

Years ago the Australian govt was paying the whites there to have children.  They were worried about being overrun by Asians.  This on a landmass that is way over-burdened.  Can you say shoot-yourself-in-the-foot?

philipat's picture

On the other hand, if thry want to make themselves extinct........

andrewp111's picture

They will just mint Trillion Yen coins. Debt. What Debt? There is no fuckin' debt.

bobthehorse's picture

America has a demographic disaster, too.

They're called baby boomers.

What we need is a Logans Run solution.


Calmyourself's picture

Your supposedly a follower of Christ and you think killing baby boomers is a good idea?  Perhaps you can find good Korean head shrinker..

Seer's picture

Green arrow to you for pointing out the disconnect with bob.

The reference to Logan's Run, however, was one of the first things I thought about when I saw this article pop up.  Mentioning it should not mean being shot down (though for bob to bring it up, and in that manner...).  I never offer "solutions," but believe that everything should be talked about in order to better understand what the problem really is.

chindit13's picture

Why stop there?  Do you not fear inheritance, especially after all the Boomer cross-breeding?  If you are truly serious, does it not make more sense to go after the young'uns, since most all are still fertile unlike the post-menopausal Boomer women and the original target market of Viagra?  Just trying to be practical here.

wisefool's picture

Isn't this the standard playbook for elitism? send the peasant men off to war and/or tax them to the point they can not support a family. Then the women will line up outside the castle to work. 

Dealer's picture

Nickles Bass often refers to Japan's demographic challenges.

DosZap's picture

The Japanese need to get on Austrailia's bandwagon but QUICK.

Give massive tax incentives, and or bonus Yen to couples to have as many kids as possible NOW,even if they subsidize them, their exoxtence is dependent on it.

Otherwise they are DOA.

Unlike us, we allow far too many immigrants in,(BECAUSE we murdered 50 million americans that would have for the most part turned into productive citizens) and the original citizens quickly are becoming the new minorities.

Trying to Understand's picture

...and the unknown variable: Fukushima and how it has and will, for generations to come, affect Japans' populaton and perhaps inhabitability...

Jendrzejczyk's picture

Perfectly valid point to bring up . Who here knows the true long term damages from that event?


Kind of OT, but an interesting vid about one segment of Japanese society.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FDSdg09df8

knowless's picture

who in the fuck downvoted you two?

Jendrzejczyk's picture

ZH is littered with nuclear physicists with intimate knowledge of all data from Fukushima.

Hahahaha, same guys that got you.

Bicycle Repairman's picture

Pro-nukers must be sent to Fukushima to clear debris.

Totentänzerlied's picture

Anti-nukers can work the coal mines and breathe the refinery fumes.

Seer's picture

Is that you, Strawman?

The implication is that we HAVE to have the levels of energy that we're currently using (and to consume even more because that's what we do- promote growth).

I'm not anti-anything other than anti-stupid-logic (rather, anti-ill-logic).

A Nanny Moose's picture

Remember Fuck-u-Shima was the result of a government granted monopoly with limited liability....not pro-nukers, or even nuclear energy.

PersonalResponsibility's picture

If spent fuel pool 4 drains, populations will decrease everywhere.  Don't know why you're being junked.

lincolnsteffens's picture

Perfect way to sterilize a broad swath of the population.  Shit, there I go again with the far out conspiracy theories again. Shame on me.


When government becomes a law breaker it breeds contempt for the law.Somebody important said that.