NOTE: The reason why there are two articles from the Washington Post is one is from Reuters and the other is from the Associated Press. As such, facts from both have been woven into this post and it would be unwieldy to cite each one seperately. You’re probably going to read them both anyway.
The Japanese government reported today that people 65 and over constitute 21% of their population. They now surpass Italy (20%) as the country with the highest proportion of elderly citizens. Also reported was that only 13.6% of Japan’s population is under 15, passing Bulgaria (13.6%) for first in that category. Finally and most alarmingly, the fertility rate hit a new low of 1.25/woman. That is well below the 2.1 rate necessary to maintain a stable population.
For a while there have been worries that Japan may face a labor shortage as more people retire than enter the workforce, and these figures seem to reinforce those concerns. The pension system could also suffer not only because of the increase of elderly but also because the tax base is shrinking. Estimates are roughly 1/4 of all Japanese may be 65 and older by 2015 and that number could reach 1/3 by 2050.
Hopefully, this report will shock the government in taking further measures to fix its birthing problems. They are in the middle of a five-year project to build more daycare centers along with encouraging men to take paternity leave. Some of the reasons Reuters gave for the plunging birth rate include long working hours for both genders, the high cost of pushing children through a very competitive school system, and barriers to women advancing in the workplace while having children. There is a temporary glimmer of hope though as the Minister of Gender Equality and Social Affairs, Kuniko Inoguchi, said Wednesday that the rate may jump in 2006; she pointed to an increase in registered marriages year-over-year for the past five months since December.
Talking about marriage, data was released in terms of how many Japanese are unmarried among the adult population. About 60% of women 25-29 and 32.6% ages 30-34 are unwed while three-fourths of men 25-29 and “just under half” of men 30-34 were single.
Let’s go back to economics for a minute. Unfortunately, Japan’s ethnocentrism may compound their labor problem. The country’s “reluctance to open its borders to immigrants and refugees despite an urgent need for new workers to replace its aging work force” has made the problem just the more worse. Currently, foreign residents account for only 1.2% of the entire population of 127 million. Instead of attempting to attract foreign workers, a government panel is thinking of capping the foreigner ratio at 3%. That still leaves room to grow but what if the native population shrinks and the amount of immigrants remains the same? Will they have to deport people to maintain the proposed limit?
At the same time as this report came out, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was finishing up his visit to President Bush with a tour of Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. Apparently, Koizumi is a big fan of “The King”. (According to Wikipedia, he also likes Morning Musume, X Japan, and Richard Wagner.) Bush arranged the tour as a going-away gift as he will leave office in September and the President is also giving him a jukebox filled with Elvis Their lunch was more dressed down than the formal White House dinner they partook the previous night. Both Bush and Koizumi passed on peanut butter and banana sandwiches offered to them at lunch. However, the two leaders differed on their drink orders: Bush drank coffee while Koizumi had green tea. (CNN)