Just a quick update this week from Japan, where the latest demographic data paints a country that is rapidly ageing, shrinking and growing more barren. This is not much a surprise of course; the latest news is merely a continuation of long-existing trends. However, Japan is of importance because it is such a large country (over 120 million people and the third largest economy in the world) and because its demographic decline is so entrenched and advanced. Further, Japan is one of the few countries with negative natural population growth that is not compensating with largescale net migration (as does Germany, for example).
In 2018, according to Nippon.com, Japan saw its population decline by over 444,000 people. This was the largest population decrease since the end of World War Two, fuelled by the largest post war number of annual deaths (1.362 million) and the declining number of births: just over 918,000. This latter figure is in sharp contrast to the two baby booms that Japan experienced since 1945. The first baby boom occurred in the late 1940s and saw over 2.5 million babies being born each year. The second in the early 1970s saw over two million births per year. Since the 1970s the number of babies born has steadily dropped and with the children of the second baby boom in their late forties and past childbearing age, it is unlikely that the smaller cohort of childbearing aged women will be able to reverse this birth dearth anytime soon. This is especially so when the (fewer numbers of) women of childbearing age are also having fewer babies each over their lifetimes. The continued drop in the number of babies being born is reflected in the total fertility rate: it continues to inch downwards. In 2018 it declined to 1.42 children per woman. This was down from 1.43 in 2017 and 1.44 in 2016.
As the number of annual deaths grows and the number of births declines then the natural population decline of Japan will continue to grow. In the next couple of years the natural population decline will probably hit half a million per year. If Japan’s government decides that it is necessary to follow other western nations’ example by raising the number of migrants to counteract this natural population decline, then each year the number of new migrants it will need to keep the population stable increases. This, in turn, makes it increasingly more difficult to do so, both politically and socially. In short, there seems to be little stopping the Japanese population decline in the foreseeable future.
Marcus Roberts is co-editor of Demography is Destiny, MercatorNet's blog on population issues.