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Friday, May 11, 2012

ARE THE JAPANESE HEADED FOR EXTINCTION?




About 20 years ago I wrote a story from Japan which lamented Japan's declining birth rate and predicted dire consequences if something didn't happen to turn things around.

In 1991, according to the Home Affairs Ministry, births in Japan fell to 1.25 million--67,000 fewer than the year before. In 1989 the average Japanese woman of child-bearing age had 1.57 children, down from 1.77 children in 1979 and 4.54 in 1949.

Things have not gotten any better. In fact, they have gotten worse.

Government projections show the birth rate will hit just 1.35 children per woman within 50 years, well below the replacement rate.

Japanese Children are in serious decline


 According to the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, in order to maintain a steady population that does not increase and does not decrease, a country must have a fertility rate of 2.1. This is the replacement rate.  If each woman has an average of 2.1 children, she will replace herself and a man, and allow for the occasion in which some children will not make it to maturity in order to replace themselves. A fertility rate below 2.1 children per woman means that a country will not replace itself.

Population experts say the world has already reached a milestone: half of humanity is having only enough children to replace itself. That means the fertility rate of half the world is 2.1 or below. This is the “replacement level of fertility”, the magic number that causes a country’s population to slow down and eventually to stabilize.

The United Nations population division reports that 2.9 billion people out of a total of 6.5 billion were living in countries at or below this point in 2000-05. The number will rise to 3.4 billion out of 7 billion by 2012 and to over 50% in the middle of the next decade. Those countries include not only Russia and Japan but Brazil, Indonesia, China and even south India.

The total fertility rate in the United States today is 2.01 children per woman, which is below the replacement fertility rate. However, U.S. population growth is among the highest in industrialized countries, because the vast majority of these have below-replacement fertility rates and the U.S. has higher levels of immigration.

In Japan things are much more serious. Japanese researchers have now warned of a doomsday scenario if it carries on this way with the last child to be born there in 3011 and the Japanese people potentially disappearing a few generations later.

Another study recently showed Japan's population is expected to fall a third from its current 127.7 million over the next century.

In 1991 I reported that when a 44-year-old housewife from Chiba named Hisako Misu gave birth to her 18th child--a childbearing record for modern Japan--bureaucrats were elated.

"Japan needs about 100,000 more like her," a Health and Welfare Ministry official told me.

Not content to hope that more Misu-sans will emerge and begin popping out babies at record rates, the nation's leaders responded by creating an unprecedented council of 15 government ministries and agencies to figure out ways of encouraging women to have more children and to solve what one official called Japan's "serious, silent crisis."

Now academics have created a population clock to highlight the fall and encourage public debate on the issue.


"By indicating it in figures, I want people to think about the problem of the falling birthrate with a sense of urgency," Professor Hiroshi Yoshida, who led the research team, told the Japan Times newspaper. 

Why is there a lack of children?  There are several answers to that question.

 The main reason may be cost. Japan is an exceptionally expensive country and putting child through the nation's highly competitive education system and eventually through college can wipe out a family's finances. But research shows it goes much deeper than that as the Japanese state does throw a lot of money at people with children.

Another reason may be Japan's growing number of effeminate men now called "Herbivores" who are either not interested in sex or who women don't find masculine enough.

Some researchers suggest many young Japanese people prefer "virtual" friends on the internet, while others suggest their fascination with comics rather than relationships is the cause for a lack of babies.
The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research study also showed one in four unmarried men and women in their 30s had never had sex, and most young women preferred being single.

It also showed more than 60 percent of unmarried young men didn't have a girlfriend, and nearly 50 percent of women of the same age weren't dating. And if that wasn't bad enough, young Japanese people are simply not interested in sex.

A survey by the Japan Family Planning Association found that 36 percent of males between 16 and 19 had "no interest" in sex.

More than 20 percent of Japan's people are aged 65 or over, one of the highest proportions of elderly in the world.

In 1991 I reported that the number of Japanese age 65 and older increased to 14.25 million. That figure grew to 25.6 million by the year 2010. Demographics experts predicted that senior citizens would outnumber those age 14 and younger within 10 years. There are now 16.6 million children under the age of 14 in Japan--almost 10 million fewer than those aged 65 and older. And that number is shrinking at a disturbing rate of one every 100 seconds.

If you do the math, Japan will have no children within a millennium.

Another study recently showed Japan's population is expected to fall a third from its current 127.7 million over the next century.

"This is really an intolerable situation for a country like Japan," said a Home Affairs Ministry official. "We must produce more children. The economic vitality and social energy of the nation are at stake."

Such hand-wringing has not moved women of childbearing age. Many single women are unwilling to forego their careers and independence for Japan's still traditional and often restrictive married life.

"I don't even want to think about marriage and raising children until I am at least 30," said Mayumi Mizukami, 22, a university graduate with a degree in marketing. "The quality of life is terrible. Newlyweds cannot even afford to buy the smallest house."

"I think the reason for the low birthrate is that women are not confident they will be bringing up their children in the proper environment," said Satoko Tanaka, head of the Tokyo League of Regional Women's Organizations.

"In the long term, it is probably not a good idea to have a population that is too small," she said, "but it is not something that can be decided by the government either."




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