Record population drop in Japan

Numerous industrialized nations are facing a demographic challenge: an aging population coupled with a low birth rate. Japan is one of these countries and experienced a record population drop in 2010:

Japan faces a looming demographic squeeze. Baby boomers are moving toward retirement, with fewer workers and taxpayers to replace them. The Japanese boast among the highest life expectancies in the world but have extremely low birth rates.

Japan logged 1.19 million deaths in 2010 — the biggest number since 1947 when the health ministry’s annual records began. The number of births was nearly flat at 1.07 million.

As a result, Japan contracted by 123,000 people, which was the most ever and represents the fourth consecutive year of population decline. The top causes of death were cancer, heart disease and stroke, the ministry said.

Japanese aged 65 and older make up about a quarter of Japan’s current population. The government projects that by 2050, that figure will climb to 40 percent.

This will have some enormous social consequences in the coming decades: an growing older population will require more and more government services that will be paid for by a shrinking base of younger workers.

One important piece of the story seems to be missing in this article: immigration. Japan has historically been relatively closed to immigration where other industrialized nations have various rates of immigration. In the United States, population growth has been fueled by higher birth rates than some other industrialized nations plus high levels of immigration. As countries continue to think about this demographic shift, could more nations see immigration as a solution to looming budget issues related to government programs for the elderly?