The country of Japan is leading the way into the possibility of a bleak future as it struggles to deal with an increasing number of elderly who are rapidly beginning to die. With a dropping number of births every year and a growing number of deaths, the country’s population is on-route to begin declining by nearly a million people every year.
After peaking at 128 million people, Japan’s population has been steadily falling for the last seven years. But the country is not alone. According to a United Nation’s study, approximately 48 percent of world citizens reside in countries where the rate of death exceeds the rate of birth, a list which includes almost all of Europe, Russia, and China.
The country’s predicament is not helped at all by the fact that more and more young Japanese men and women are abstaining from marriage. While young men and women continue to have sex, births outside of marriage are rare compared to other countries such as the U.S. As of 2006, around 72 percent of men and 60 percent of women under 30 years of age had never been married. The nation’s fertility rate of 1.42 births per woman is now among the lowest in the world.
While other developed countries have similar birthrates, Japan seems to be ahead in the race of the ageing populations. This may be due to the country’s economic development which has left wages relatively stale since the 1990’s. Working men simply cannot afford to support a wife and child, especially considering the tradition that a woman’s career should end with childbirth.
Career-orientated women must then feel little enthusiasm in bearing children, considering the strong social pressure they will face to quit their work and support their husband from the home once that child is born. Those who refuse to become housewives will have to pay out for expensive child-care, and many will struggle to find employment.
As the birthrate drops by more every year, Japan’s elderly are also beginning to die in larger numbers. In 2006, approximately 20 percent of the population was over 65, a figure that is expected to rise to 38 percent by 2055. Already the public welfare programs in Japan, including health and pensions, account for over 30 percent of the average national income, a figure that can be expected to rise a lot higher as the country continues to get older and smaller.
Whatever measures the government may take, its actions will most likely pave the way for other nations who are quickly approaching the same crisis. As more and more ageing citizens die every year, Japan’s shrinking numbers are beginning to tip the country into a spiralling economic crises. The country’s government estimates that the population will be have dropped to 87 million by 2060, around half of which will be over 65, suggesting that there simply won’t be enough workers to support the increasing amount of elderly. While it remains to be seen if the government can enforce effective enough change in Japan to either increase the country’s birthrate or relax its stringent immigration policy, other nations yet to face the same predicament may be watching closely.
By Mathew Channer