Japan's children steadily disappear
The Washington Post
TOKYO — Japan celebrated a national holiday
on Monday in honor of its children. But Children's Day might just as easily
have been a national day of mourning.
this is the land of a slow-motion demographic catastrophe that is without
precedent in the developed world.
The number of
children has declined for 27 consecutive years, a government report said over
the weekend. Japan
now has fewer children who are 14 or younger than at any time since 1908.
The proportion of
children in the population fell to an all-time low of 13.5 percent. That number
has been falling for 34 straight years. In the United States, children account for
about 20 percent of the population.
Japan also has a surfeit of the elderly.
About 22 percent of the population is 65 or older, the highest proportion in
the world. And that number is on the rise. By 2020, the elderly will outnumber
children by nearly 3 to 1, the government report predicted. By 2040, they will
outnumber them by nearly 4 to 1.
Japan, now the world's second-largest economy, will lose 70 percent of its
workforce by 2050 and economic growth will slow to zero, according to a report
by the nonprofit Japan
Center for Economic
Population shrinkage began three years ago and is
gathering pace. Within 50 years, the population, now 127 million,
will fall by a third, the government projects. Within a century, two-thirds of
the population will be gone.
Rural Japan, thus far, has borne the
brunt of the slide. In depopulated small towns, stores are closing and
governments are desperate for tax revenue. The government is subsidizing the
development of robots as caregivers for the old.
Japan's future depends on metro Tokyo, home to about 35 million people, or 27
percent of the country's population.
But in Tokyo, children account for just 11.8 percent
of the population, according to the new government report.
© 2008 The Seattle Times Company