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Japan's population decline is gathering momentum

Posted by: Ian Rowley on August 11, 2009

Japan’s Internal Affairs Ministry published the latest numbers on the country’s declining population on Aug. 11. The data doesn’t make for pleasant reading. In the year through the end of March 2009, the number of births in Japan fell for the first time since 2006 to 1.08 million, while there were 1.13 million deaths. Put together, that adds up to a record decline in the population of 45,914. That bests (if that’s the right word) the previous biggest decline of 29,119 in 2007. Just as worrying, the number of Japanese 65 or older increased to a record 28.21 million out of total population of 127 million. Meanwhile, the current recession—Japan’s GDP may shrink 6% this year—will likely make things worse as couples decide to delay or have fewer children.

Still, as grim as all that is, the plunge could add further impetus to the Democratic Party of Japan’s election campaign. The DPJ, which is set to oust the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in an Aug. 30 election, has included some fairly radical measures to help boost Japan’s birthrate. Among them: giving parents $270 a month per child and making state high school tuition free. The DPJ is also considering expanding medical insurance to cover certain kinds of fertility treatment and will up the one-off payment parents receive on the birth of each child.

Strong measures are needed given only Hong Kong has a lower birthrate than Japan. Critics, though, say a stronger economy and a more forgiving corporate culture which encourages people to spend more time with friends and family would have a bigger impact. There are also questions as to how the DPJ plans to pay for these and other expensive pledges given Japan’s already gigantic gross national debt, which was already 170% of GDP before the current economic crisis triggered huge stimulus spending. They are all fair points. Yet, with the rate of population decline gathering speed, the DPJ’s plan to stimulate the birthrate looks like a vote winner.

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Reader Comments


August 12, 2009 08:01 AM

Japan is a very racist country. The only foreingers the permit are the American military (trillions in free military protection) and prostitutes from Thailand (so their own people don't have to do it). They've been spoiled by other countries (especially the stupid USA) allowing them to export their stuff while keeping their markets closed. Now that China and S Korea can compete with them they are between a rock and a hard place.
They will never allow a policy that encourages immigration as a solution.


August 12, 2009 08:51 AM

Line up the ladies, I'll increase the birthrate :-)


August 12, 2009 10:35 AM

This is great news! Japan is one of the most overcrowded countries in the world and in the long run everyone will be better off if they decrease their population by a few million.

So what if GDP is dropping? That just isn't the relevant statistic. GDP per capita has held up as well as anywhere so the Japanese citizens are no worse off than those of other nations.


August 12, 2009 10:55 AM

Maybe , just maybe the national debt and the equivalent impact on tax rates is an underlying cause of the problem in addition to basic demographic bubble effects? There is also a lesson here for the U.S. and Europe, but I doubt anyone is going to listen.

gabe, san diego

August 12, 2009 01:54 PM

Japan has been in and out of recession in the last 15 years or so. When people worry about the future, they dont want to have kids. As soon as the economy bounces back, I believe so will the birthrates.....


August 12, 2009 08:57 PM

Dave, you should not forget that Japan gives billion every year for american for defense they didn't ask for. They help boeing to be competitiv in term of R&D so before seeing things in an extrem point of view, which I respect, I think it is better to tell all the truth, not only one part.

Dave Faulkmore

August 13, 2009 01:26 AM


I agree. The issue is economic obligations. Remove those and the foreigners, who are relatively few and the underdogs in j society, could help boast the population back up.

Then after having each girl sign a waver, u'd be banging every girl that gives you the googly eyes that walks down the street.

Jou H

August 13, 2009 04:49 AM

What the article fails to mention is that the population of the country has actually increased for 2 years in a row due to returning expatriots. And GDP per capita is the metrics that count. Anyway, Japan is a very crowded place, a shrinking population wouildn't be all bad.

BusinessWeek's Ian Rowley

August 13, 2009 05:31 AM

Jou H is correct that the population of Japanese people living in Japan increased due to returnees. However, this seems to be a temporary phenomenon driven by companies bringing home overseas workers due to the economic downturn.


August 13, 2009 12:28 PM

Population decline is an extremely negative phenomenon and a source of economic instability. Why can't developed countries simply keep the birthrate at the replacement level? That way they would avoid: 1 collapsing pension systems. 2 mass-immigration that could erode local cultural values.


August 15, 2009 04:03 PM

Population decline is not always bad if it is caused by decreases in fertility and immigration, rather than by an increase in the deathrate. People and their governments can make changes in their pension protocols--and changes can be made in agricultural, manufacturing and distribution systems to avoid massive immigration.

The human population--as a whole--needs to be decreased from current levels. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that the U.S. population in 1960 was 180 Million, is about 307 Million today, and will reach 439 Million by 2050. We need a population decline. We should be congratulating Japan and certain european nations.


August 17, 2009 07:36 AM

Poor Albert : collapsing pension systems, mass immigration, these are two of many requirements of the market system to keep low wages and high employment levels. Both of which demand total allegiance to the system or perish. Pensioners are aware of the old adage, save for a rainy day, it's here.


August 18, 2009 11:37 AM

What I am questioning is that why is population-instability necessary in the first place? My private opinion is that a lack of adequate state regulation is to blame.

For example, in China they've got a "one-child-per-family" rule, whch has lead to grotesque population imbalances.

The reason: Chinese traditions hold males to be more valuable than females. The state has not gone far enough in rooting-out these traditions.


August 19, 2009 10:58 PM

Albert you dumbass, if China didn't have the state dictating how many kids the parents could have maybe they wouldn't be in this mess as badly.

You are the typical commie, to manage a problem created by state regulation in first place we need more state regulation ....

Population "instability" is not about necessity or unnecessity, its because people privately choose to have less kids, partly because of state regulation aka socialism which makes you pay taxes till you drop dead and other poisonous ideologies like feminism which want the state acting as the primary partner of women.

Nicholas Folkes

September 2, 2009 08:02 AM

Why would the Japanese want to embrace third world immigation and multiculturalism? I have spent many years living in Japan and enjoyed the homogenous nature of their society. There is crime but foreign gangs, crime, welfare abuse and anti social bahaviour is quite low due to less third world migrants. Yes, Japan is a racist country just like other Asian nations. We, in the West are the idiots because we have embraced a failed Canadian experiment called multiculturalism and we are now paying the price. Multicultiralism is our biggest mistake in the West. Just look at the States in the US with higher concentrations of hispanics and blacks, their standard of living is lower than white dominated areas.

There is alot the new Japanese Govt. can do to encourage popultation growth but immigration will destroy Japan. If they fall for the policy of immigration then their streets will be filled with crime, rape, drugs, gangs and anti-social behaviour.


September 2, 2009 04:37 PM

yes Japan should not let third world countrie immigrants enter into Japan. And to Nicholas the blacks in America were here in America since the begginning of America, and also Hispanics!I am Hispanic and my family came to America in the early 1800's! The only reason why i wouldnt let immigrants in Japan is because it it the Japanese homeland and it would further ruin thier culture =D


September 3, 2009 02:34 PM

Yes, I agree with you there Nicholas. Immigration and multiculturalism must be avoided where possible.
However it must be stressed that in addition to the damage suffered by those societies accepting immigrants in too large numbers, its the countries that export immigrants that suffer most (i.e. from a shortage of highly-qualified labor).

Nicholas Folkes

September 3, 2009 06:36 PM

To Erik, my opposition to third world immigration is not based on race alone but the financial costs incurred by migrants and illegal migrants once they arrive. It is no secret that blacks and hispanics in the US have larger families than whites and have more children born out of wedlock and many cases into welfare dependent families. The explosive hispanic population growth in the US is causing costs and putting huge pressure on budget deficits. Ther are also over 12 million undocumented wokers in the US, most hispanic and most from mexico - these illegal migrants alone will cost even more in the future if that stupid amnesty takes place because these illegals will be entitled to education, hospital and welfare payments. Blacks and hispanics are over reliant on welfare and affirmative action programmes which displaces whites and also costs the white taxpayer a fortune. This is Socialism and laziness and does not bode well with white Americans. Everybody pays more for less.

I hope Japan and other asian countries contemplating third world immigration and multiculturalism to think again. Just because the third world is poor and experiencing huge popultation growth does not mean we, in the developed nations need to take their surplus people and problems. These third world countries need to enforce family planning like China has done, even though there are problems China has still developed faster than places like India, Bangladesh or Pakistan.


September 4, 2009 07:11 AM

The comments about Blacks and Hispanics in the USA is very unfair. Most Blacks today are descendants of people imported en mass from Africa to work as slaves in the New World. Many Hispanics in the USA can also trace their lineage back to ancestors who were in places like California, Texas and New Mexico, Florida before been absorbed into the USA when the latter grabbed them from Spain and Mexico. Full rights in the USA for Blacks and other minorities didn't reach fruition until well into the 70's and only after much rioting, etc. In Japan many of the criminal gangs are in the Yakusa because their ancestors were grabbed from Korea, China and the various kingdoms in the East China Sea during Japan's expnsionist policies from the late 1800's till 1945 to work for Imperial Japan. Even today because of Japan's racist policies, the descendants of these slaves are not allowed to become full citizens of Japan. I would say you sow what you reap in both countries. I recall Alan Clark, a minister in Maggie Thatcher's British Cabinet, commenting on the fact that there were so many "Johnny Foreigners" in Britain: "...that that is the price you pay for Empire"


September 19, 2009 07:49 PM

While the comment, "thats the price you pay for empire." sounds cool it is not really true, in reality it in practice it is , thats the price dumb ass european majority countries pay for being self abusive fools that constanty crap their pants in fear of being called racist. Japan is 99.8 % ethnic Japanese and has really paid no price. Turkey is 97% TURKISH AND


September 21, 2009 10:23 PM

I challenge you to spend a year living in Tokyo (or anywhere similarly, horribly, overcrowded) and tell me that population decline is a bad thing. People say Japanese women aren't having kids because of the economy. I bet it's in part because at least in their living room they have a little bit of space and peace.


October 27, 2009 05:06 PM

to Nicholas:
well the whites made the blacks in america they way they are today. the whites pushed them down in society because of racisim and it still happens 2day. and if people come from third world countries to move 2 america and they create gangs that means that america did a crapy job 2 Americanize them. and dont worry the number of illigal and legal immigrants from mexico has been declining since 2004, and it wont go on forever since Mexico is developing less people will choose 2 leave and Mexico is not even a third world country. But i still dissagree with immigrants to Japan beacuse it is the Japanese homeland and it would be sad to c thier culture be ruined. but u did have a some what good point there Nicholas =D


November 22, 2009 04:50 PM

Unfortunately by living in crowded Tokyo, you will not get a clear picture of how depressed the rest of the country is. Step outside of the major metropolitan areas in Japan, and you will see local trains running with maybe 3 other passengers in a car. The trains will keep running regardless of the cost involved.

I agree Japan is a racist country--racist in a way that they will discriminate against other Asians. Changing the existing corporate culture may be one way to tackle the shrinking economy, but as long as those outside of corporate Japan do not embrace change, I believe the population will continue to shrink. I do not think multiculturalism will be bad for Japan. Just look at some of the young population in Japan, who are dying to become the cool hip-hop dancers or know nothing about their own history or culture. But at the same time, I don't think the Japanese people are ready to embrace real multiculturalism yet. That's the government fault for not allowing dual citizenship to people of Japanese origin with mixed background (e.g., second and third-generation Japanese from Brazil) and not increasing immigration from other countries. If they start accepting more green cards to aliens in Japan, maybe in 50 years, the society will be more accepting of hard-working nationals from other countries. Right now, I cannot imagine a non-Japanese nurse's aid attending to an elderly Japanese patient without causing feelings of distrust, unfortunately.


December 20, 2009 02:04 AM

And you know it's only going to get worse if they ever start producing lifelike(by which I mean anatomically correct) robots with advanced AI.


January 23, 2010 08:10 PM

Surely Japan should be celebrating that their population is decreasing….the country already has 127 million inhabitants…which makes Japan already one of the most overpopulated based on their land area…..further to this Japan doesn’t have adequate land for agriculture so it has to heavily depend on food being exported by other nations.

It’s worrying to see this world is overpopulated as it is....and it’s more worrying to see countries like Japan are encouraging to increase birth rates.


January 25, 2010 02:53 PM

But on the other hand Maulik, if it ever gets to the point where the number of senior citizens is the same or greater than the number of younger people, they'll really be in trouble.

Another observer

March 5, 2010 01:19 AM

Thank you The_Observer, your comments were the most intelligent ones on here, and I think that you are spot on about that other user's comments as being unfair.


March 6, 2010 08:12 AM

they could always import muslims, i hear that is working out great for european countries.

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BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.

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