Declining Birth Rate: Is is True for Every Country?

by July 3, 2018 0 comments

Japanese MP Kanji Kato is advicing newlywed couples to raise at least three children of their own. What’s the thought process behind this request? Are New Delhi and Moscow facing the similar demographic concerns?

Reality revealed: Last year, 941,000 children were born in Japan, the lowest since the national survey began in 1899, thereby showing an alarming decline in birth rate in that country. In this context, can Kanji Kato, a 72-year-old MP of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), be at fault when he said: “Newly-weds should raise at least three children”? Was he not expressing concern for Japan’s rapidly declining population? However, one does not wish to make any comment on his supplementary statement, to wit: “Young women, if they do not get married and have offspring, will end up in care homes run on taxes of other people’s children.” Unsurprisingly, this created controversy as critics latched on to the addenda to his statement and lashed out at him for this avoidable public utterance.

Let us, however, analyze calmly what could have been the thought-process of the beleaguered Japanese MP leading to a statement so serious and pertaining to the demography of Japanese society. This writer believes that Japan has been one of the most consistent Asian partners in India’s economics and bilateral relations. So, let’s explore what is at stake for Japan. Kanji Kato’s first part pertaining to the request to “raise three children” is spot on. Why? Because the symptoms surfaced 44 years ago, in 1974, when Japan’s population showed a decrease. Births decreased for the first time in six years in 1974. Apart from this, the population of Tokyo too, which had been continuously increasing since the Tokugawa period except in the year of the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 and the year of Pacific ceasefire (1945), also decreased for the first time.

Now, compare the yearly increase of 13,40,000 which ended in 1974 with that of a population increase of 9,41,000 last year. One gets an answer as to why and what made the Japanese MP say what he said. To this extent, I do feel that Kato was stressing on a point for the future of his country. Fast forward from 1974 to the year 2000 — one finds that the population of Japan is 12,6900,000 with a projected assessment of reduced populace of 12,4200,000 by 2020. Although 2020 is still two years away, figures of 2014 showed that the Japanese head count was at 12.70 crore (an increase of one lakh only between 2000 and 2014) with a reduced population projection of 12,700,000 by 2030. And if that does happen, Japan will definitely face a crisis of sorts which can be explained in economic terms. If the percentage of the productive population drops and the percentage of non-productive population rises (in Japan’s case, owing to low birth rate and high death rate), surely the ratio of dependent population to productive population would rise, thereby, putting pressure on the Japanese economy.

Broadly, three factors must have crossed Kato’s mind. First, Japan today has one of the slowest growing populations with -0.2 per cent average annual change from 2015-2020. Second, Tokyo’s average number of children per woman for 2015-2020 is projected at 1.5, which again is one of the lowest growths in the world. And third, its percentage of elderly population aged 65 years and above (which is 26.3 per cent of the total population) is very high. Japan, however, is not the only country in the world that faces a potential crisis in its demography. There are others too which are economically advanced but collectively face not-too-bright a prospect in human resources development. Migration, immigration and refugee movement, as seen in Europe, America and Asia, constitute the real-time threat compelling several countries in the world to face the stark possibility that the wars between states and the terror attacks of non-state actors could emerge as two main sources of proliferating world conflict.

Thus, a cursory glance reveals that there are almost 50 countries which face slow-growing populations the average annual percentage of which for 2015-2020, ranges between 0.3 per cent to -0.8 per cent. Japan stands at the 17th position with -0.2 per cent average annual percentage change for 2015-2020 between Greece -0.2 per cent (16) and Moldova -0.2 per cent (18). Whereas, Greece and Moldova have comparatively small populations and even smaller economies, Japan stands in the top league as its demographic make-up is crucial for its economy. In fact, the nearest rival of Japan in matters of demography loss can only be Russia. Once the mighty USSR contained 28,7800,000 people and spanned over a land of 2,240,0000 square kilometers. With the 1991 collapse striking Moscow hard, today’s Russian population is on the wane. With 14.25 crore people on a shrunken 1,710,0000 square kilometers when compared to the USSR, Russia is a shadow of its Cold War past notwithstanding its ninth position in the list of world populations. The US, on other hand, is ranked third with a 32 crore 60 lakh populace without any loss of land.

However, what may soon become a matter of concern for Russia is that, like Japan, it has a shrinking demography. The position, gleaned from credible sources, reveals that the present 14,250,0000 number is projected to become 13,500,0000 by 2030. And here, unlike Japan, Russia’s worries will multiply due to its vast resource-rich and sparsely populated Euro-Asian land mass. Security thereof will definitely become a major challenge.

As for India, well, unlike Japan and Russia, the average yearly addition of Indian heads is more than 1,50,00000. And there doesn’t appear to be any brake in sight. So, here we are, in a highly ‘polarised’ and grim 21st century of two extremes of ‘surplus’ and ‘deficit’ demography in a fixed geography. Seen in this light, while Kato could be faulted for being blunt, both Moscow and Delhi may soon be cursing themselves for their inability to think the way Kato had thought for his country; though for different causes of action. Deficit is Moscow’s looming problem and surplus New Delhi’s.             

(The writer,  Abhijit Bhattacharyy, is an alumnus, National Defence College)

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