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Does Japan have a population problem?

July 28th, 2008 · Greg Atkinson · 4 Comments

Often one of the major problems facing Japan is said to be that is has a declining population. All sorts of scary statistics are used to paint an almost doomsday scenario where at some point there will be few young people left, the country will be composed mainly by the elderly and the economy will collapse.

The problem with this view is that it is dated and is based on 19th century economic thinking in that a major component of a nations growth is driven by an ever increasing population. However we are now in the 21st century, where humans will not be the main drivers behind productivity and where a smaller, healthier population will be good not only for a country, but good for the planet as well.

Periods of population decline are a frequent part of human history caused by such things as disease, famine and wars. However as the impact of these factors are reduced it is not a bad thing for population growth to also slow thus preventing over population, the effects of which are arguably worse than under-population.

People in developed countries are living longer and Japanese people are amongst the longest living in the world. As people live longer and healthier lives their productivity will be extended and they will no longer wish to retire at 65 and “go fishing” for 20 years.

In addition productivity in the 21st century will be driven largely by technology and it will not be too long before it is common for factories to be staffed by only a handful of staff, robots used in medical and nursing care and fully automated transport networks etc.

In other words this means a reduced population can still result in the productivity of a nation increasing. We also need to remember that companies with operations offshore also bring profits back to their home country and so in the case of Japan, the country has a virtual extended workforce scattered across the globe.

In a world where we face food and water shortages can there be any better way for a nation to survive than to live within it’s means? If the population of Japan declines and then stabilises would this not improve food security for the nation?

Let’s also not forget that a major cause of conflict in the 20th century (and throughout human history in fact) were nations trying to expand because they needed room to grow. Surely if we remove this need then the world is going to be a much more peaceful place?

The challenge therefore is for Japan to encourage family friendly policies so that it can stabilise it’s population through natural growth and not take knee jerk actions like implementing mass immigration programs as these can cause more problems than they solve.

Measures such as encouraging workplace childcare, workplace family friendly policies and some additional government financial support for families I feel would go much of the way towards stabilising the population in Japan and position the nation strongly for the 21st century and beyond.

(Edited 12th May, 2009)

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Anon // Sep 21, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    Brilliant. So many people are unable to see Japans’ potential arguing negative population growth amongst other mainstream ideas. I too see robotics as a big part of Japans’ productivity going forward.
    Interestingly, Japan is demographically attractive according to the “my ratio” —

    Japan and Demographics:

  • 2 William // Dec 28, 2011 at 7:23 am

    Japan had a population of around 60m in WW2 and was already densely populated. It bloated to over 100m at the turn of the century. That growth is unsustainable and as the article says, produced huge food security and land challenges.

    Japan also has limited natural energy resources (virtually no fossil fuel resources like oil) to power such a massive population, so has had to turn to dangerous nuclear reactors – built in the path of Tsunamis. We’ve seen the cost of that!

    Japanese are smart and have voluntarily decided to reduce their population to a sustainable level.

    Congratulations to Japan! Your children and grandchildren will thank you!

  • 3 Greg Atkinson // Jan 15, 2012 at 9:31 am

    William the declining population debate is an ongoing event in Japan but the reality is that governments can’t force families to have more children.

    I think you are right and that the Japanese population will stabilize at a more sustainable level and I don’t think that is something the nation should fear.

    Reducing the tragically high level of suicides in Japan is also something I think the government should be doing more to address.

  • 4 William // Jan 15, 2012 at 6:45 pm


    I would assume it is mainly business (and their government helpers) fretting about the declining population.

    Of course population decline is a challenge to manage, but not a patch on the challenges created by an unsustainable population. Just wait until peak oil and other peak resource issues hit in the next decade or two.

    Suicide can be another symptom of over-population and subsequent battery hen living. But that’s another story…

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