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 13th (it will be out in January 2020), 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.

You can download an iPhone app for the 13th edition from the App Store (search for Weeks Population).

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Friday, February 26, 2016

Japan's Population Really Is Declining

We've been expecting this for quite a while now, but the 2015 census results from Japan confirm that the country's population is in decline. BBC reported the news:
New census figures in Japan show the population has shrunk by nearly one million in the past five years, in the first decline registered since 1920. As of October last year the country has 127.1 million people, 0.7% fewer than in the last census.
Demographers have long predicted a drop, citing Japan's falling birth rate and a lack of immigration. The rapidly ageing population has contributed to a stagnating economy and worries of increasing health costs.
Japan now has 947,000 fewer people than when the last census was conducted in 2010, figures released by the internal affairs ministry show.
Only eight prefectures, including the capital Tokyo, saw a population increase, national broadcaster NHK. reported. The remaining 39 all saw declines, including Fukushima which saw the largest drop of 115,000 people. Fukushima, site of the doomed nuclear power station, was hit especially badly by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
You have to hand it to the demographers at the United Nations, who (of course with help from demographers in Japan) came very close to mark on this. Their estimates and projections suggested that Japan's population peaked at 127,341,000 in 2009, dropped slightly to 127,320,000 in 2010, and they projected that by 2015 the population would be down to 126,571,000. Thus, they projected a decline of 749,000 in the intercensal period between 2010 and 2015, whereas the drop was just a hair more than that, according to these reports.

I've mentioned numerous times that the Japanese government would like the birth rate to rise a bit--to get closer to replacement level. In my view the main impediment is the continuing gender inequality in Japan. Lack of equality keeps the birth rate too high in less developed countries--as I discuss in a blog post on Population Matters--while keeping it too low in richer countries such as Japan.


  1. Thank you for this. It is very helpful.

    But I do feel like you are missing something. Even if there were greater equality, why would people in Japan want to have more children? My impression is that you assume that people naturally want to have children, but I don't see that you have established empirically why this should be the case.

    The truth is that in most countries where there is pronounced gender inequality there is a very high TFR. In countries where there is greater gender equality the TFR is much lower. Would this not empirically demonstrate that gender equality and fertility are inversely correlated?

    1. As I discuss in the book, in rich countries where greater gender equality extends to education and the workplace, but not to the family--where women are still expected to fulfill the traditional roles of wife and mother even while working, the birth rate is artificially depressed. This is why programs like subsidized day care, as well as role models for men to participate in child care and household chores, help to bring the birth rate up closer to replacement level.