Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Forget one for mum, one for dad, one for Country - Japan is hoping for "whooooops, that's one for the country!"

A cheeky official in Japan concerned about the livability of his City, suggested secretly distributing punctured condoms to young married couples within his constituency to arrest the Country's rapidly declining birth rate and declining population. Whilst this official has been reprimanded and I am sure civil libertarians are well and truly up in arms over such ideas, if indeed the Country is to arrest these current trends, radical thinking will need to come into play.

Since 2011, the population of Japan has been declining, and by 2050, will approach a population base not seen in the country since the early 1960's, a decline of 80million people post 2011.

The facts are truly alarming in fostering ongoing economic growth and prosperity in Japan, and do require radical thinking in economic sustainability strategies that are based more around wealth creation than population sustaining. It also raises the typical questions of how the working population will sustain and support an aging non-workforce? What sort of health care system to create with what funding? How policy and economic activity will work in with evolving cultural norms? What is the future of the construction sector?

As evident in many developed nations, the declining marriage rate, the delays in the marriage age, delays in having children, and a population living longer, are contributing to the radical change in the population base of Japan. Whilst the birth rate in Niger was an astonishing 46.84 births per 1,000 population, the rate in Japan in 2013 was only 8.23. Here in Australia it was a modest 12.23 births per 1,000 persons. The rapid pace of this change is perhaps the most telling.

In 1970, the median age of brides on their first marriage was 24.2years, and by 2012, this had increased sharply to 29.2 years. Similarly, the median age of first time mothers had increased from 25.6years to 30.3years over this same period, those that are indeed actually having children. A survey released by a local magazine reported that one third of respondents did not see the point in marriage, with 30-somethings particularly ambivalent towards marriage. Given that very few children in Japan (around 2%) are born outside of wedlock, this ambivalence towards marriage suggests an even sharper declining birth rate is likely unless there are major shifts to influence this cultural phenomenon.

Incentives like paid parental leave, baby bonuses etc that have played a part in influencing birth rates in other developed nations are unlikely to influence such an environment where there is ambivalence to the institution of marriage and an increasingly singular culture in Japan. The withdrawal of its youth from society is a critical cause for concern, even coining its own terms - Hikkamori (essentially meaning withdrawing) and SNEP's - Solitary Non-Employed Persons; an effective means of contraception requiring a national commitment to cultural change and understanding not simply deceptive techniques.

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