This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Friday, January 2, 2015

Can Women Save Japan?

Thanks to Justin Stoler for pointing me to a story on NPR yesterday highlighting Japan's drop in population size last year:
The figures released by the country's health ministry showed that the estimated number of people who died in 2014 was 1,269,000, about 1,000 above the previous year. The number of births was 1,001,000, down about 29,000 from 2013. The total population declined by a record 268,000. 
Japan's aging and shrinking population has been a concern since the 1970s, when the number of newborn babies hit more than 2 million annually. The figure dropped below 1.5 million in 1984 and below 1.1 million in 2005...Those 65 and over are expected to make up nearly 40 percent of the population in 2060. That could mean tough economic times for the world's No. 3 economy.
Japan was the first Asian nation to industrialize--starting back in the 19th century--and it used the demographic dividend of a rapid drop in the birth rate after its military defeat in WWII to become a world economic superpower. But fertility has been below replacement level since the mid-1970s because traditional attitudes make it very difficult for women to have a family and a career, and women have often chosen the latter over the former. As today's NYTimes reports, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to change this by, among other things, making day care more available for working mothers. 
In a country where juggling work and family has long been especially difficult, Mr. Abe has pledged to ease the way for women like Ms. Kitajima, with more state-funded child care and other measures to foster “a society where all women shine.” Tackling the nation’s shrinking population and declining labor force by encouraging working women is part of his broader effort to re-energize the economy, which is looking especially unsteady after Japan unexpectedly fell into a recession last quarter.
The article notes that these reforms face a lot of opposition in a society that is still very tied to the idea that men make the money and women make the babies. Indeed, clinging to traditional ideas of society is also the reason why Japan's demography is not influenced by immigration--foreigners are largely kept out in order to preserve the old racial/ethnic/cultural order. As Dr. Phil used to famously say: "How's that working for you?" 

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