Japan Population 2017
The commonly held view that the population of Japan is in line for a sharp decline is backed up by the numbers. Based on the projections by the United Nations (visible in the graph below), the downturn will continue, and possibly accelerate.
Japan is comprised of more than 6,800 islands, although its largest four claim 97% of its population. The 2016 estimated population of 127 million represents a major decline from its official 2010 census, and this is a major problem that Japan will need to face in coming years.
As we’ve seen, the final census figures for 2010 showed a final count of 128,056,026 people with a population density of 336 people per square kilometers, thereby making Japan the 40th most densely populated country on the planet.
Unlike many other countries around the world today, the population of Japan appears largely homogenous with the final population statistics comprised of a 98.5% contribution from ethnic Japanese people. In addition, there is a very small proportion of foreign workers living here, largely made up of Koreans, Chinese, Peruvians and Brazilians.
The largest native ethnic group in Japan is the Yamato people, although large minority groups include the indigenous Ryukyuan and Ainu peoples. While Japan may seem homogenous in terms of ethnicity and culture, this may be due to Japan's absence of racial and ethnic statistics for Japanese nationals. The country has traditionally rejected the need to recognize ethnic differences in Japan, and former Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso once described the country as one of "one nation, one civilization, one language, one culture and one race."
Japan is currently the world's oldest country, and it's set to get even older. In 2050, it's estimated by the government that 40% of Japan's population will be over 65. In the last few decades, the country's social security budget has increased 15%. While 5 decades ago there were 12 workers for every retiree, there will be an equal 1:1 ratio in 50 years. This is one of any demographics problems Japan must address.
Reasons for Falling Numbers
Some reports claim that Japan’s total population could fall by as much as 30% to around 87 million by 2050 and the reasons, quite simply, point to a disparity in the birth and death rates. In addition, it’s impossible to rule out the part that the March 2011 tsunami and earthquake played. 19,000 people lost their lives at the time, and it’s widely accepted that the incidents will have a ‘knock-on’ effect of reducing overall life expectancy.
The difference between rising death rates and lower birth rates is also clearly a factor with low fertility rates among women shouldering part of the blame. Experts attribute Japan's low growth to the high cost of raising children in the country, the growing number of women who choose to work longer and have a career rather than have children, and Japan's reluctance to accept immigrants.
Another statistic that doesn’t help the population decline is the alarming number of suicides in young people.
Unfortunately, Japan has one of the world's highest suicide rates, and suicide is the leading cause of death for people under 30. Factors in suicides in the country include social pressure, depression and unemployment, and the National Police Agency found that suicides linked to job loss increased 65.4%. There was a suicide in Japan every 15 minutes, with close to 33,000 reported in 2009. Luckily, suicide rates have been on the decline for three consecutive years. This is just one of the many problems Japan will need to control to see its population and economy grow into the future.
The Future of Japan
Overall, Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world even though it is expected to fall slightly in the near future. However, with low birth rates, the population is rapidly aging but in 2007, the country announced its first significant birth rate increase in many years, so could the predictions be false?
Incentives to have more children are also being announced, but as a whole, the country is just starting to feel the effects of a post-war baby boom, many of whom are now nearing the end of their years.
Slowing population growth and an aging population are creating more than a headache for the island nation, as this problem is shrinking its pool of taxable citizens, causing the social welfare costs to skyrocket, and has led to Japan becoming the most indebted industrial nation with public debt that is double its economy.
It's possible that Japan's population will drop to just 96 million (from 2013's 126 million) by 2050, and the country as a whole is involved in serious debate about how to fix this problem. While birth incentives and immigration incentives are often suggested as the solution to bring the young workers necessary to support the country's aging population, time will tell if this is enough.
Japan's population growth rate in 2011 slowed to just 0.02%, a record low. This rate was actually higher than expected, according to an internal affairs ministry official.