Japan will ‘disappear’, says PM aide : Why developed countries are staring at low birth rates

Japan will ‘disappear’, says PM aide : Why developed countries are staring at low birth rates

Context- Echoing similar concerns expressed in the past, an adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said the country would disappear if it continued to “go on like this”, referring to its low birth rates.

Countries such as Italy, South Korea, and the United States are also registering declines in their birth rates. Here’s why developed countries across the world are facing some version of Japan’s problem – and why Japan is still among the worst off.

(Credits- Statista)

Why are developed countries having low birth rates?

  • The net annual population change in a country is calculated by taking the numbers of births and those who have migrated and subtracting the number of deaths and out-migration.
  • Therefore, births, deaths and migration become the key numbers behind population change. Taking an example, India saw high numbers of births and high deaths among its people in the period around its independence.
  • High births were to help families in agrarian societies, where children also worked. But prevalent diseases and a lack of infrastructure and services — roads, hospitals and schools – meant a high number of deaths as well. So, the overall population change was minimal.
  • When basic services became available to more people, deaths were significantly reduced. As births remained high, the population grew. Demographic theories say that eventually, education and prosperity mean births are also low and the net change in population is again minimal. This is where developed countries are.
  • There usually are accompanying betterments in this stage, such as improved life expectancy, quality of life, fewer infant deaths and improved health of women at childbirth. But if deaths exceed births the overall population will reduce year-by-year, as in the case of Japan.

And what are the concerns over falling birth rates?

The ‘disappear’ comment is an extreme stage of such a trajectory, but there are more immediate issues to focus on.

  • First, if most people in a population are ageing or soon to retire, they fall outside the workforce. Younger generations would have to support them, with more of their taxes going to pensions, leaving less for the present generation’s needs. The lack of working-age people would also mean fewer caregivers for the elderly.
  • In China, this has already been noted. Due to the One-Child Policy in China that was only recently relaxed, a shorthand of ‘4-2-1’ was coined among younger people for how four grandparents and two parents become dependent on a single child because the policy continued from 1980 to 2016, affecting generations.

Is Japan doing worse compared to other developed countries?

  • Japan is facing a dire problem as it has already reached a stage where the elderly are making up a sizeable percentage of the population at around 30 per cent. But it can be argued that South Korea – which is also seeing record-low births – is doing worse.
  • In both countries, some issues are common. Many young women are opting to not have children or not get married at all. Urbanisation and modernisation have meant high living costs, making it expensive to raise kids, and traditional gender roles have caused inequality in the workplace with the task of child-rearing mostly falling on women.
  • Additionally, cultural expectations are not the only reason why men contribute less to household work. Long working hours mean a full-time job leaves little time spent at home, and salaries can still be inadequate for supporting a family.
  • Japan has also, historically, been hesitant on allowing immigration, based on ideas of preserving cultural homogeneity.

What is being done now?

  • These factors are well-recognised. A report of the government’s Council for Gender Equality stated, “Japan should take measures to raise its level in areas such as ‘Flexibility of work styles’, ‘Flexibility in division of roles for household work,’ and ‘Equality of employment opportunities,’” comparing the country with the US and the Netherlands.
  • While both these are developed nations with low birth rates, their situation is less alarming because of better workplace policies and culture around women’s work.

Conclusion- Demographic changes can create problems for any country in the long run. Hence, policymakers need to take steps before the problem becomes more acute.

Source- Indian Express

NEWS- Japan will ‘disappear’, says PM aide : Why developed countries are staring at low birth rates

Syllabus- GS-1; Population