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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Monday, January 9, 2017

Japan Faces Up to Its Aging Population

Japan has had a very low birth rate for a long time. It also has the highest life expectancy in the world, and one of the stingiest immigration policies in the world. As a result, it has a rapidly aging population that is changing what everyday life in Japan is all about. Now, to be sure, this has been going on for a long time and people have worried about it for a long time, but as this week's Economist points out in two related stories, the time for action has definitely arrived. Suburbs are aging and schools are closing, and the retirement age (which was a ridiculously low 60), is going up, people are staying in the labor force longer, and people are discovering subtle ways around the country's lack of interest in immigrants.
A building once occupied by a junior high school, which closed for lack of pupils, is becoming a language college. Jellyfish, an education firm with tentacles in several countries, will use it to teach Japanese to young graduates from East and South-East Asia. It hopes to enroll 120 students, plus staff, which ought to make a notable difference in a district where there are now fewer than 350 people in their 20s. Some of those students might even decide they like the place, and settle down. Whisper it, but this sounds a little like a more liberal immigration policy.
It is culture, broadly speaking, that has produced the current situation in Japan. The birth rate is so low partly because women are expected to take care of children, and their aging parents, and their husband's aging parents and it is impossible to be society's version of a mother and housewife if you are working, so most women have chosen to have only a small family. And, of course, women are much less likely than men to reach the highest levels in society, so they are not able to save as much for retirement as might otherwise be the case. And businesses stick with the old rules of paying by seniority rather than by accomplishment, so there is a push in business to get older people (men) out of the labor force in order to save money.  Japan has adopted many of the Western methods for developing an economy (and, in turn, the rest of the world has learned a lot from Japan), but the country has not adopted some of the key cultural changes that would have provided smoother demographic sailing at this point in history.

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