Dying out

Dying out

Issues raised by research merits attention.

Japan’s population is theoretically in danger of becoming extinct in a thousand years. The country’s under-14 age group, which stands at 16.6 million now, is reportedly declining at the rate of one person every 100 seconds and this, researchers warn, could culminate in the extinction of the Japanese population by the end of this millennium. Japan’s fertility rate i.e. the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime was 1.39 per woman in 2011 – far below the estimated 2.07 required to maintain the level of population. Demographers have been sounding warnings since the 1970s when the fertility rate began plummeting. Although this rate has been rising since 2005, the increase is minute, hardly enough to make a dent on Japan’s looming population crisis. 
Many will dismiss the warning of Japan’s population extinction as alarmist. They will point out that this is a scenario that is in the realm of theory still. Besides, why worry about a situation that is a millennium away? However, the issues raised by the researchers merit attention as some of the grave implications will begin unfolding in a few decades from now. Within the next 50 years, Japan’s population is expected to shrink by a third if current birth and fertility rates continue.

As serious as the shrinking size of Japan’s population is its greying. Children constitute just 13 per cent of Japan’s population, down from 24 per cent 15 years ago. By 2060 the aged will constitute 40 per cent of the population. A greying population has implications for social relations as well as the economy.  Japan will be confronted with the problem of a diminishing workforce. Besides, its investment on problems related to the aged will surge especially in the context of an increasing lifespan.

The Japanese government has reportedly been taking steps, including better child care benefits to encourage women to have babies. This has had little result. Most Japanese women are employed and work at least 40 hours a week. The prospect of returning home to do all the household chores, including taking care of parents, a husband and children is daunting. As in other Asian societies, rarely do men pitch in. In the circumstances, women are choosing to not have children. But blaming women for the  population becoming an endangered one will not do. Women’s expectations are changing and they should get all the support they need for the population not go extinct.

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