A Demographic Transition, Indeed

Japan’s population is declining at a rapid rate as the average age of its citizens climbs. Having peaked at nearly 128 million people in 2004, when those aged 65 or over comprised about 20%, the population is expected to drop to 95 million by 2050, when the share of senior citizens will be about 40%.

And the rate is increasing, with 2012 marking the steepest drop ever for the second straight year, with deaths outpacing births by 205,000. For the first time, the proportion of elderly 65 and over surpassed the number of youths age 14 and under, in all 47 prefectures.

The near and medium term implications of this change are mounting. With elderly farmers dying off and those remaining having more difficulty being alone, there continues a flight to urban centers. Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya now host nearly half the entire population. If government agricultural subsidies are cut from passage of the TPP trade agreement, it is sobering to think of what that will do to the remaining small farmers and their land. The government already spends over a third of its income supporting the elderly. But can this huge outlay continue?

After all, in 1965 there were nine workers paying taxes for every retired person. Now there are just two.

Everywhere one looks across society there are impacts to be seen, economic, social, environmental. To be sure, a falling population will require less energy and consume fewer resources, but one wonders what kind of infrastructure will meet the remaining demand. Hopefully it will be a relatively soft landing, but the risks of it being hard, or at least turbulent, are huge.

In any case, the scale and nature of this demographic transition is unprecedented in the world. I believe this is the first time a highly industrialized country has faced such a persistent and profound decrease in population. And when taking into account all of its attendant challenges and implications, it is an open question whether this unfolding could possibly result in a resurgence of satoyama spirit – albeit decades hence, when the population returns to Edo-era numbers. One can only hope.

Credit: Japan for Sustainability

Credit: Japan for Sustainability


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Cornelia Jarica on April 18, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    Excellent thoughts as usual, Alan!  Thank you.   Germany and other European countries also have a declining population but this trend is counterbalanced a bit by the open employment situation within the EU which has allowed young people to work and move abroad.    Due to the Southern European economic downturns and the need in Germany for professionals in the sciences and engineering, etc., there has been some increase of immigrants to Germany.   Also, due to Germany’s asylum legislation as a leftover from WWII, political refugees from Africa, the Middle East, and Asian nations continue to come to Germany where they can stay one or two years or longer if it can be determined that returning to their homeland would pose a great risk to their life.   But then there are hordes of people who are smuggled into the country illegally through organized bands.  They come from Eastern Europe or Africa and find refuge with those who came before them.  They start working illegally with no security, protections, or rights.  In this way, too, Germany is becoming a small USA.  All this would have been unthinkable when I grew up.   European countries have long been haunted by their wrong doing during colonial times.  The UK has been experiencing an influx of immigrants from Pakistan and India;  the Netherland from Indonesia;  and France from Northern Africa.  But unlike in the US, there is no melting pot or tossed salad emerging.    My opinion is that European countries will be swamped by foreigners from developing countries who – in future decades – will intermarry.  The good thing about that is that the unattractive white skin will become a bit more tanned.  Other than that I can only see a deteriaration in education, morals, professional commitment and work ethics, and economic performance.   To me, Asian countries are like a youthful person full of energy and vigor and the US represents a young couple getting started in life.  But Europe resembles a person in a midlife crisis, or a person who opts for early re”tire”ment, or who is “enjoying” their senior years.   The question for me is, Alan, where to incarnate in my next life?  I plan to do it rather quickly (after having passed on) since I have such a long list of things I wish to accomplish.  Dreams and desires that were born out of living this life time exposing myself to many people, ideas, and experiences. With warm wishes, Nela


    Cornelia Jarica MA BS Independent Researcher, Analyst, and Consultant Remote Sensing Satellite Earth Observation ~ Green Technologies Member of AIFM ~ International Association for Mediterranean Forests Founder ~ Colloquium on Quantum Physics and Metaphysics Mobile +49 151 510 234 10 ~ Skype ‘cjarica’   YouTube Channel ‘MyAppreciation’ http://www.youtube.com/user/MyAppreciation


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