Map of Japan’s demographic decline

When Kim and I wrote the first edition of the textbook, the external reviewers asked for a number of important changes, one of which was to include more demographic information. In the second edition, we continued to draw on demography, which particularly informed our discussion in the conclusion regarding future trends in global affairs. Demographic information can be dangerous if over-simplified, and it is often cited by cultural conservatives who fear the impact of migration. Still, demographics is perhaps the most reliable means to look into the future, whether it be to foresee the decline of francophone communities in Canada outside of Quebec and New Brunswick, or the enduring power of France, which has a brighter demographic future than many European states. The major global demographic trend in the world today is towards demographic decline amongst developed nations, even as Africa’s population climbs sharply. Some nations, such as Taiwan, have birth rates that are shockingly low. Of course, there are also advantages to population decline, particular regarding environmental issues. With a smaller population there is less demand for energy and other key resources. In the short term, however, most nation-states that have aging populations will face significant economic challenges, from how to fund the pension system, to the declining number of taxpayers to service the national debt.

While Russia, Italy and Germany also have declining populations, no major power is facing as impressive a demographic decline as Japan, which has more elderly citizens as a proportion of the population than any other country. By 2050 Japan’s population is projected to fall under 100 million people. The reasons for this decline are complex, and include the heavy hours that many employees are expected to work in their thirties, and the cultural expectations that surround gender roles. One can see the future in a series of demographic maps originally published on a Japanese news website. The final map in the series is the critical one, as it shows the number of woman of childbearing age that will live in particular prefectures in 2040, compared to 2014. The number of prefectures that will face a more than 50% drop is striking, but what is really stunning is that in some areas the number will fall more than 80%. As others have noted, there are also positive aspects to this change, such as the fact that the government will have to provide fewer services. Still, over the next thirty years the challenges that the Japanese government will face will be immense, particularly as it struggles to service its immense debt with a falling number of taxpayers.

If you are interested in demography, I recommend the “Demography Matters” blog.

Shawn Smallman

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