On the Surface
In 2014, Japan had a birth/death deficit of 268,000 people, and that number is increasing due to a combination of social and economic factors (namely, falling numbers of marriages and job instability). Japan has recently implemented several policies to combat its rapid aging; only time will tell if any of them bear fruit.
The main causes for Japan’s population decline are both economic and social. The stagnation of the Japanese economy means that young adults face an an uncertain economic future. Additionally, since mainstream Japanese culture stipulates that the husband is the earner while the wife stays at home, starting a family becomes more risky.
Furthermore, this traditional family model has lost appeal for many Japanese women, who instead pursue their own careers rather than getting married. The social stigma surrounding unmarried people with children again factors into the low birthrate.
Implications for Japan’s Future
The decline in population has huge ramifications for Japan’s economy. Japan’s population over 65 is currently 25 percent, and that number is projected to grow to 40 percent in 2050 if the rate of decline continues. This would decimate the labor force relative to the population, leaving the country with more people drawing on state security programs, and fewer people actually paying into those programs (social security costs are estimated to make up 24 percent of Japan’s GDP by 2026). And a shrinking population means less consumption, which has negative effects on the economy.
The Japanese government is pursuing three different routes in the hopes of solving the depopulation crisis.
First, the government is actively organizing “konkatsu” events for singles in the hopes of catalyzing marriage and the resulting children.
Second, Japan is trying to address gender inequality in the workplace in order to make sure that women feel comfortable pursuing both a career and a family.
Finally, as reported by South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, Japan may annually allow 200,000 immigrants into the country. Though Japan has historically had restrictive immigration policies, it now has a dearth of skilled workers, a gap that immigrants can fill (in addition to the general population gap).