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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trav777's picture

yep..or mexico and el salvador.

the reason that those places are like they are and japan is like it is is because of WHITE RACISM.  And oppression and all of that.

Once Africans move to Japan, they will fit right in and be just like brown japs with gigantic lips...there's no inborn difference between any of these races; it's just a social construct that curiously can be tested for with DNA marker analysis.

AnAnonymous's picture

So I guess Japan needs to import millions of people from Africa and then all of their problems will be solved?

It will buy some time for sure.

It would generate a decrease in consumption.
The trouble is to know how long before they turn into 'americans' and from then, booom, consumption explosion.

'Americanism' has shown its capacity to spread.

Low consuming populations are pretty soon subjugated by 'americanism' and it is game over.

TheFourthStooge-ing's picture

AnAnonymous said:

The trouble is to know how long before they turn into 'americans' and from then, booom, consumption explosion.

'Americanism' has shown its capacity to spread.

Low consuming populations are pretty soon subjugated by 'americanism' and it is game over.

Most Chinese citizenism citizens do not try to assess the validity of their assertions but are imbued with gang mentality. But reminding that is useless.

Therefore they are ready to produce any kind of stories.

Never read somewhere, especially on this forum, on how Chinese citizenism citizens conciliate the reality of Chinese citizenism and their fabled version of what citizenism should be.

All I was able to collect is that most often, the Chinese citizenism propaganda is spread at all costs manufacturing deniability, exporting blame to exterior, and flight from self indiction.

But how they conciliate the massive resource grabbing, blobbing up, and their propaganda over Easter Island, well, they never told about that save gross rationalization.

Feel free to provide though.

ShakaZulu's picture

There is no 4th stooge, therefore you do not exist.

trav777's picture

buy some time for what, rape and murder?

where do blacks go that they do not forcibly occupy the lowest thug rungs of whatever socioeconomic ladder exists?

nonclaim's picture

Just shut electricity off for a week or two this coming Spring and in nine months the statistics will turn up nicely.

r3phl0x's picture

Not really, 50+ year old women cannot breed, no matter how much propaganda you feed them, or how long you turn off the lights.

Stuck on Zero's picture

The Japanese are reducing their population gradually and to the benefit of everyone.  The U.S. on the other hand will grow and grow with legal and illegal immigrants until the conditions are intolerable and then there will be a population cliff with a devastating collapse.  Your choice.


Totentänzerlied's picture

By that logic, Mexico and other sources of US immigrants are reducing their populations as well. Is that to the benefit of everyone?

Nassim's picture

Very sensible people. Clearly, they have all read "Limits to growth" - even if their politicians have not.

ToNYC's picture

Japan is the evolutionary test of the "saving face" idea and cultural conformity. Memo to Nippon: not working out so good, get over it and go "Gangham" style!

machinegear's picture

I am tired of talk. Any other ZHer's want to go to Japan next week and fix this problem?

ShakaZulu's picture

I would be most happy to try!

duo's picture

I thought raising my children with my own money was the way to go.  If I had done it the right way (Obama's way), I would have knocked up a couple of women and had the state raise their children in section 8 housing and public schools.

The state wants the middle class to have more kids, but at $250K a pop to raise them, not many are taking the bait  What can go wrong?

silverdragon's picture

The non productive old people dying off is a good thing.

Reduced population will be sharing same assets also increased living space for all.

Reduced energy requirements means reduced imports.

Less pressure on young as don't have to carry the weight of non productive old people.

Will probabaly result in an intelligent non race based immigration policy, it's about time..

Looks like a win for Japan and increased productivity.


AnAnonymous's picture

That's denying 'american' nature.

The reduction in consumption is certainly not granted.

Especially as the youth ('american') might feel holding back.

Any new inch of consumption space released, those oppressed 'americans' will saturate.

30 millions 'Americans' in Japan might be too many.

Going back to the level of 'american' population that was on 1776, July, 4th might not even be enough at this stage.

tony bonn's picture

one other side effect of de-population is increased dependency not only upon Depends, but also on foreign markets meaning the yen will become even more debaseable and trade wars more heated.

Northern Lights's picture

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. 

Don't for get to mention that men are smarter and don't want to be used as ATM's,

steve from virginia's picture




Japan, like all countries is massively over-populated with humans. The country would thrive as a non-industrial nation with 1/10 the current population giving desperately needed relief to natural services that require the absence of humans.


The idea of gigantic populations serves the interests of tycoons and plutocrats who play one person against the next for wage-gaiin. Massive populations also provide a putative market for industrial output. Both of these dynamics accelerate the unraveling of industry as wage/income returns are needed to justify more credit to the firm.


There is a gain from jettisoning industrial output because industry cannot meet- or bear its own costs ... when credit runs out the result is the bankruptcy ... of firms and the nation.


BTW, if the humans add bad luck to their demonstrated stupidity and greed the 'population issue' will be irrelevant as humans follow Dodo Birds, Passenger Pigeons and Mastodons into well-deserved extinction.



Notarocketscientist's picture

There are 3 likely global outcomes:


1.  A massive culling of population as a result of disease, famine, war ...


2.  A total decimation of the planet as a result of all out nuclear war as billions fight for scarce resources


3.  Small elites backed by powerful militias will live like the kings and emperors of past centuries, there will be a small nobility of white collar workers, ZERO middle class... then massive numbers living, working and fighting to feed themselves. 


ZeroAvatar's picture

A lot of body bags are going to be filled in the next 5-10-15 years.......the trick is to stay OUT of one as LONG AS POSSIBLE!!

silverdragon's picture

Japans declining population of unproductive people is positive for those productive people that currently support them.

AnAnonymous's picture

I am with you on that, bro.

We, Americans, are a special kind in humanity.

We are the first human beings in all times to have managed to make production an unlimited process.

Getting rid of the unproductive will solve all of our problems.

Signed: an American.

toomanyfakeconservatives's picture

No wonder... have you seen the Japanese version of sex?

are we there yet's picture

Sadly women who are the brightest are converting their future children into professional careers today. On a long enough timeline they will breed to zero.

847328_3527's picture

Can a person be long in Kamikazes ?

Mister Minsk's picture

Japan will be extinct in a few months. We'll see more of it on the Discovery channel.

williambanzai7's picture

One can legitimately ask, who is the one deciding that it is a good thing to be grossly over populated? Anyone who has spent time in Japan knows what I am thinking.

SAT 800's picture

Yeah, I agree; It 's a ridiculous thing to worry about. 97 million is not nobody; it's a slight reduction.

chindit13's picture

Somehow I think this lack of desire to reproduce will be a trait that is selected out of the population naturally over time.

PGR88's picture

We need to send over to Japan guys like Ray Lewis and Allen Iverson to impregnate a few hundred thousand women.

dunce's picture

Their practice of limiting immigration preserves their culture and their race which is clearly superior to unnamed others. there may be an optimum number of people considering their land mass and amount of arable land. Most of our serious problems are directly related to historical bad choices in the composition of our population and it is getting worse. Multiculturalism and diversity historically been political and cultural disasters.  The USA only worked because in the past assimulation was demanded and bad actors were deported or jailed or faced capital punishment to keep the gene pool clean.

besnook's picture

first of all, this guy and anyone who thinks like him is stupid. greater productivity with a smaller population means more wealth per capita. a good thing, isn't it?

the easter island model is the best model. right?

in a post post modern world japan is the leader. productivity gains reduces population as the need for labor declines. the closed door immigration policy shows the net result of progress in a controlled environment. is this the key to human survival? if productivity based upon technology reduces population and reduced population translates to reduced consumption of resources then does the world continue to thrive? or are humans on an inevitable path to easter island? is the path to save the world a hyper modernization that will naturally cull the population as productivity rises or is it a massive population destruction event and a return to an aboriginal indian lifestyle that will give humans the time necessary to save the species?

in any event, let's kill all bankers first to see what that does for the human race.

Iam_Silverman's picture


That's their problem.  Soybeans are loaded with phytoestrogens.  Turns all of their men into girly-boys.

buzzsaw99's picture

They are smart not to have babies. The future is bleak.

shovelhead's picture

Modern welfare states have no need of many children to support their parents in their old age so populations decline which eventually lead to a dearth of taxpayers to support an aging population over a span of time.

Most all of the modern (post WW2) welfare states are faced with the same population decline and the nations with the barest of safety nets are still expanding.

The state can design society all it likes but they can never overcome the fact that humans do what they do because it works, albeit not without frictions and imbalances.

One could easily make the argument that the notion of paying your way through your non productive later years from savings without a corresponding replacement in productive workers was a post war aberration brought about by an exponential increase in productivity via technology and efficiency and in the end an unsustainable model once those rapid income gains begin to diminish or flatten out by govt.s siphoning off a larger share and an increasing number of former third world countries sharing the pie.

Them chickens always seem to find their way home.

flapdoodle's picture

I learned Japanese and went to Japan many years ago and based on what I saw concluded that they live in the future: in some ways, their day to day living is like something out of Blade Runner or Minority Report.

The problems they've run into just anticipate the problems we will run into (if we are lucky - the alternative path is that we will all live in Detroit like in the movie "Looper")

From what I saw and have read, I've also concluded that the Japanese have a *really* serious problem in making decisions - leading to a society that is not very agile in confronting new problems, or bold enough to make painful decisions which might ruffle establishment feathers.

The results are Fukushima, Sony having lost their mojo vis a vis the Koreans, and a general lack of innovation from a population that is talented enough to do much, much better but has a schlerotic layer of clueless managers...


Agent 440's picture

This is why you don't keep old people alive and give them a vote.

SAT 800's picture

I disagree on the basis that they're plenty of Japanese Schoolgirls on the Anal Porn sites. They'll probably all grow up to be Mitsubishi production line workers.

southerncomfort's picture

let them die. tell them to take the kardashians and beyoncee with them! Love how "nature" will ultimately take the trash out if we humans are too stupid to do it. Just dig that dynamic... ...


... "Masuoka claims the snaggletooth look gives his patients an "impish beauty" that is considered "endearingly attractive" to men. " "... because Japanese men feel so weak in the face of a stagnant economy and fast-shifting gender roles,..." http://shine.yahoo.com/beauty/japanese-snaggletooth-craze-spawns-dental-...

DrDre's picture

On the other end, we know that there is no way for human population to continue growing indefinitely without fully depleting the planet's resources. It may be centuries away, but it is bound to happen. Population has to either stabilize or decline for the planet to remain sustainable. So some "disaster" now may actually be good in the long term for land-constrained Japan. Forget about the markets and stuff.

Tekrunner's picture

So, on the one hand, we all feel vaguely worried when we hear that the global population has passed a new billion mark (as it did in Oct 2011), but when a country's population starts to revert to a level that is probably more in line with what said country can actually support, it's a "demographic disaster" ? People are really indocrinated with that "growth in everything is good" philosophy.

AnAnonymous's picture

It is a demographic disaster, considering the ponzi dimension of 'american' economics.

cape_royds's picture

1. Almost every country in the world has been experiencing a rapid decline in total fertility rates (i.e. the number of children the average woman bears during her reproductive lifetime).

2. Every developed country has a total fertility rate below the replacement level (the replacement level is about 2.1).

3. Japan is merely a more pronounced case of what is happening throughout the developed world.

4. While the aging/shrinking demographics of the developed countries is by now well-known, what most people still don't seem to realize is that many developing countries have sub-replacement fertility rates, too.

5. Mexico and Iran are both going to experience a Big Wave of Grey, as of course will China. Iran has a sub-replacement fertility rate despite its socially conservative, theocratic government!

6. What has been really stunning have been the plummeting fertility rates in India, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Kenya's fertility rate is still high, but it's dropped by over two-thirds in less than 20 years.

7. World population is going to max out sooner, and at a lower level, than was ever predicted by experts.

8. We've gotten used to such terms as "peak oil." Get ready for "peak labour." For a long time many countries could simply import cheap people as a growth tonic. Those days are going to come to an end.

SmittyinLA's picture

The horror of larger apartments and less traffic OMG!