The Axis Powers seem to be “paying” for World War 2 with national extinction (check after the jump for fun facts on what life in Japan is like with one-third of teenage boys no longer interested in sexual intimacy!). I’m not entirely a “demography is destiny” sort of chap but it does seem rather odd that Japan and Germany have the lowest birth rates in the world with the exception of Monaco and Hong Kong, which are uber-dense metropolises (Italy is 10 slots behind them in the race to stop having children).
One of the best things the Japanese (and Europeans) can do is arbitrage on global health care costs and establish a ring of “health-care” colonies in India & the Philippines around the world in cheaper destinations. As I always like to say, ”spot the opportunity in any crisis”.
“Immigration” is no solution to population decline and aging; it’s merely postponing the problem for another generation. The Japanese need to overcome their existential ennui on their own rather than importing the third world (better to outsource than import) to support an unsustainable pension system and from what I hear an incredibly cumbersome education system (similar to Germany). The idea of population aging again presents societies with a perspective to review the traditional demarcations of childhood, “productive age” and retirement.
Also the simple fact is (and I say this is as an ardent capitalist) the global economic system has become dangerously lopsided. A single glaring statistic that the wealth of the Top 200 Forbes US list is around $1.5trn dollars, which is slightly less than the wealth of the bottom half of the US population at $1.6trn dollars. All of this leads me to conclude that Margaret Thatcher got it right when she said, “They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations, because there is no such thing as an entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation.”
No less intriguing, however, is the proposition that Japan might turn out to be a major supplier of emigrants to the rest of the world. Given the cost and care outlook for their aging population, the Japanese might, for example, establish health care “colonies” in places such as India or the Philippines, spots where large populations of elderly Japanese could enjoy a good quality of life or receive necessary treatment and support at a fraction of what they would cost at home. Younger Japanese, for their part, might find it increasingly attractive to venture overseas in search of opportunity if the alternative were perceived to be a limited future in a shrinking, dying Japan. More than one million Japanese were already estimated to reside abroad as of 2009.
Rates of childlessness have been generally rising throughout the industrialized world since 1945, but Japan’s levels were high to begin with. About 18 percent of Japanese women born in 1950 ended up having no children—a larger percentage than among their famously childless West German contemporaries. Among Japanese women born 15 years later, the odds of being childless are roughly one in four. But this may be only a foretaste of what lies in store.
Projections by Japan’s official National Institute of Population and Social Security offer a stunning picture of the possible future for today’s young Japanese. Consider, for example, a woman born in 1990, now 22 years old. Given current trends, the institute estimates her life expectancy to be around 90, maybe higher. But children—and family, at least in the current understanding of the term—may very well not be part of her life experience. The projections give her slightly less than even odds of getting married, and staying married to age 50. Her chances of never marrying at all are nearly one in four. Further, these projections suggest she has nearly a two-fifths (38 percent) chance of ending up childless. Even more astonishing: She has a better-than-even chance of completing life with no biological grandchildren.
Though it can be represented in cold statistics, the human flavor of Japan’s new demographic order may be better captured in anecdote:
• Rental “relatives” are now readily available throughout the country for celebrations when a groom or bride lacks requisite kin.
• “Babyloids”—small, furry, robotic dolls that can mimic some of the sounds and gestures of real babies—are being marketed to help older Japanese cope with loneliness and depression.
• Robot pets and rental pets are also available for those who seek the affection of an animal but cannot cope with having one to look after.
• In a recent government survey, one-third of boys ages 16 to 19 described themselves as uninterested in or positively averse to sexual intimacy.
• Young Japanese men are, however, clearly very interested in video games and the Internet: In 2009, a 27-year-old Japanese man made history by “marrying” a female video game character’s avatar while thousands watched online.
• Japanese researchers are pioneering the development of attractive, lifelike androids. Earlier this year, a persuasively realistic humanoid called Geminoid F was displayed in a department store window, appearing to wait for a friend.