Can Abe Tackle The Real Reason For Japan’s Decline? (Procreation)

http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Newgeography/~3/OYxZBAdFV1Q/004798-can-abe-tackle-the-real-reason-for-japans-decline-procreation

Much has been made of Japan’s latest relapse into recession. For the most part, economists have focused on the efficacy of the once much-ballyhooed “Abenomics,” the stimulus and structural reform program that was seen as the key to turning around the island nation’s torpid economy. While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling coalition won a sweeping electoral victory this weekend, giving him a mandate to continue his economic policies, it is increasingly clear that the epicenter of Japan’s crisis is not its Parliament, or the factory floor, but in the bedroom. Japan has been on a procreation holiday for almost a generation now, with one of the lowest fertility rates on the planet. The damage may prove impossible to overcome. Japan’s working-age population (15-64) peaked in 1995, while the United States’ has grown 21% since then. The projections for Japan are alarming: its working-age population will drop from 79 million today to less than 52 million in 2050, according to the Stanford Institute on Longevity. Since hitting a peak of 128 million in 2010, Japan’s overall population has dropped three years in a row. These trends all but guarantee the long-term decline of the Japanese economy and its society. In comparison, competitors such as the United States and India are projected to continue to grow their workforces over the long term. China’s workforce, which grew rapidly over the last couple of decades, recently began to decline, as early as 2010 by one estimate, due to its one-child policy. Some countries, like Germany or Singapore, have tried to make up for low fertility through immigration, something that remains all but unthinkable in congenitally insular Japan. Short-term importation of workers has occurred through a “foreign trainee” program, but it has stirred controversy, with some immigrant workers claiming they are being cheated and abused. Aging is becoming a bigger issue, particularly due to the country’s average lifespan of 83 years, which is among the longest in the world. Perhaps if everyone would have the good sense, as one Japanese official put it, to “hurry up and die,” the shrinkage would be manageable. But old Japanese don’t seem to be lining up to commit suicide. So by 2020, adult diapers are projected to outsell the infant kind. By 2040, the country will have more people over 80 than under 15, according to U.N. projections. By 2060, the number of Japanese is expected to fall from 127 million today to about 87 million, of whom almost 40% will be 65 or older. The fiscal costs are obvious. Over the past few decades, aging has helped transform once thrifty Japan into the country with the high-income world’s highest level of government debt. The demands for more help for the elderly, notably medical care, combined with a shrinking, increasingly occasional workforce, is one reason why Abe was forced to push for a sales tax increase, one of the things that retarded Japan’s recovery. These trends have been developing for decades. Sociologist Muriel Jolivet noted in her 1997 work Japan: The Childless Society that many Japanese women had taken a break from motherhood, in part due to male reluctance to take responsibility for raising children. This trend accelerated in the next decade. By 2010, a third of Japanese women entering their 30s were single, as were roughly one in five of those entering their 40s. That’s roughly eight times the percentage in 1960, and twice that of 2000. By 2030, according to sociologist Mika Toyota, almost one in three Japanese males may be unmarried by age 50. Many young Japanese are not only eschewing marriage but a highly publicized sliver now show little sexual interest in each other. The percentage of sexually active female university students, according to the Japanese Association for Sex Education, has fallen from a high of 60% in 2005 to 47% in 2012. Much has been made of a subset of young Japanese men labeled as “herbivores,” who appear more interested in comics, computer games and socializing through the Internet than in seeking out the opposite sex. And since many only work part-time, they tend to stay longer with their parents, further slowing economic growth. No society can thrive under such an environment, certainly not in the long run. If “animal spirits” drive entrepreneurial growth — as it did unmistakably in Japan both before and after the Second World War — those are clearly dissipating now. As prices have dropped and opportunities shriveled, fewer Japanese are interested in starting or growing families. In the longer run, one has to wonder what kind of country Japan may become over time, something hardly irrelevant not only due to the country’s importance, but also since other key Asian countries appear to be following the demographic path it is blazing, including including South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and China. In China, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates, the population will peak in 2026, and will then age faster than any country in the world besides Japan. Of course, projecting population and fertility rates over the long run is difficult, and there remains a large margin for error. For example, the U.N. projects Japan’s 2100 population at 91 million, while Japan’s National Institute of Population and Social Security Research projects a population of 48 million, nearly one-half lower. Japan’s grim demography is also leading to tragic ends for some elderly. With fewer children to take care of elderly parents, there has been a rising incidence of what the Japanese call kodokushi, or “lonely deaths” among the aged, unmarried, and childless. Given the current trends, this can only become more commonplace over time. The Japanese “model” of low fertility still has its defenders, including those in the U.S. who point out that it allows, in the short term, for greater per capita wealth and lower carbon emissions. But most Japanese recognize that the profound morbidity of the demographic trends; 87% see an aging population as a major problem, according to a recent Pew study, compared to 57% in China and only 26% in the U.S. And to be sure, Japan remains a supremely civilized country, with low crime rates, a brilliant artisanal tradition, and exemplary infrastructure.But none of this can likely survive under these demographic conditions. Not surprisingly, the Japanese government, like its counterparts in western Europe and Singapore, has attempted tomake child-rearing easier by providing cash payments for families and expanding child care. Yet to date, such compensation has been unable to make up for high housing costs and weaker familial bonds. As Toru Suzuki, senior researcher at the National Institute of Population and Society Security Research, put it in The Japan Times, “Under the social and economic systems of developed countries, the cost of a child outweighs the child’s usefulness.” Although the United States has not embarked on such a dismal course, in large part due to a greater land mass, lower housing prices and immigration, for us, too, the twin forces of lower fertility and the retirement of baby boomers is slowing our labor force growth rate. Ideally American fertility rates will recover with the economy, allowing us to get back to a more sustainable demography that would at least replace older people with a steady supply of young adults. What we don’t want to do is emulate Japan. There’s a price to pay for avoiding the bedroom in favor of video games, not only for individuals but societies as well. This piece first appeared at the Forbes. Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA. Photo by Kevin Poh: Night Life @ Shinjuku, Tokyo

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s