Monday, March 22, 2010
Not breaking news, but I wanted to mention that Japan’s population is shrinking. This is hardly unique in the world, since a number of other countries are also suffering from population decline, mainly in Eastern Europe. What makes Japan different and has demographers all over the world (all 25 of them) drooling in anticipation, is that they were expecting this, and there is really isn’t much Japan can do to avoid a dramatic depopulation in this century on a scale not seen since the bubonic plague ravaged Europe in the 1300s.
Here are the projections. It’s a really great graph, so click on it, put it in a big window and take some time to look it over.
The estimate is that by the year 2105, the population in Japan will have plunged from its current 127 million to around 45 million. A 65% drop for those keeping score. The action has only gotten started. Last year, the population decline was a modest 75,000, but by the end of this decade the yearly decline should be in the 500,000-1,000,000 range.
Driving the pop- drop is a fertility rate that has been in a steady decline for about 35 years, when it slipped beneath the “replacement rate” of 2.1 births per woman. It currently stands at 1.34, but even if it were to rise again, population decline would still occur since there are fewer and fewer women of childbearing age.
The social reasons behind the fall in fertility are basically that Japanese women don’t want to get married and much less have children. And who can blame them as one Internet poster put it:
“Fewer Japanese women having babies because they don't want to get married to childish Japanese men. Also, babies are expensive, and why bring a child into a world with a looming threat of Godzilla?”
Working women come home after 12- hour workdays to wait on their husbands and kids. Grandparents could babysit, if they weren’t busy taking care of their own parents.
For years, the central and local governments have been extending financial incentives for women to procreate. But you have to question the commitment when it wasn’t until late 2008 that childbirth was even covered by medical insurance (it’s not an illness).
Naturally, not everybody sees depopulation as a bad thing. Japan is still one of the more densely populated countries in the world and when they sought to “reach out” into the world for a little elbow room, the results weren’t pretty.
Still, the process is going to leave the country with a disproportionate number of elderly, and many are worried about that.
Immigration has been the answer for other societies in this pickle. But the Japanese seem to love their monoethnicity and a massive immigration program is unlikely to garner popular support.
Cruel and insensitive internet posters have suggested remedies such as subjecting Japanese males to “tenderization”, by forcing them to watch Sandra Bullock romantic comedy marathons Or spiking the water supply with ExtenZe. Very funny, guys.
Why am I blogging about this? It’s interesting and something to be considered when investing. When Japan’s population is headed for a fall off a cliff, one can hardly expect the Nikkei to bounce back to its 1989 highs (almost 40,000 then, it’s standing at 10,800 now). I know I’ll think twice about buying Toyota stock. (/Investment Theme Justification)
Rural Japan is already feeling the effects of depopulation. If you’re into this kind of thing, here’s a fine blog called “Spike Japan”, depicting the desolation setting in on the countryside. Great depressing stuff.
It’s almost like a preview from the series “Life after Humans.”