Download PDF Barring the unimaginable, just 30 years from now, Japan will be a far smaller and vastly more aged country than the one we know today. On the cusp of a monumental demographic transformation, Japan is gradually but relentlessly evolving into a society whose contours and workings are the stuff of science fiction. Aging and population decline will profoundly alter the realm of the possible for Japan--and will have major reverberations for the nation's social life, economic performance, and global position.
Japan's future population profile has already very largely been set: more than 60 percent of the people who will inhabit the Japan of 2040 are living today. Between then and now, the country's population prospects will be driven by three distinctively Japanese trends:
"For better or worse, depopulation and pervasive graying look to be Japan’s lot."
1) Excellent general health. The Japanese are perhaps the world's longest-living people, with an overall life expectancy today of 83 (86 for women); the outlook is for further improvements. Despite salutary trends in "healthy aging," this increase in life expectancy can only mean that a growing share of the population will be increasingly frail- and that their need for pensions, medical services, and long-term care will grow.
2) An unusually strong aversion to immigration. Alone among the world's richest nations, Japan has reported net out-migration over the past four decades. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in 2007 Japan naturalized fewer than 15,000 new citizens, far fewer than Switzerland- a country with highly restrictive naturalization laws- and just 6 percent of Japan's population. As of 2010, Japan was home to an estimated 2.2 million foreigners, less than 2 percent of the population.
3) Extremely small families. Japan recorded its first postwar instance of sub-replacement-level fertility (that is, fewer than 2.1 children per woman; the rate in Japan is less than 1.4) in the 1950s and has not seen a single year of above-replacement-level fertility since 1974, according to the Japan Statistics Bureau. Barely 40 percent as many Japanese babies were born in 2007 as were born in 1947, and the outlook is for fewer births still in the decades ahead- as far as the demographer's eye can see.
Nicholas Eberstadt is the Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy at AEI.