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Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012

EDITORIAL

Japan's population time bomb

A population trend estimate announced on Jan. 30 by the health and welfare ministry's National Institute of Population and Social Security Research shows that in 2060, Japan's population will fall to about 30 percent below the current level, while people aged 65 or older will account for 40 percent of the population. It is imperative that the government take effective measures to make it easier for young people to be able to afford to marry and raise a family.

As Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in his policy speech before the Diet on Jan. 24, Japan should change its social security system from one that is preoccupied with supporting elderly citizens to one that strengthens support for working people, including child-rearing families, and meets the need of all generations.

The estimate shows that Japan's population will shrink by around 30 percent to 86.74 million by 2060, and that the percentage of people aged 65 or older will increase from 23.0 percent in 2010 to 39.9 percent in 2060. People will also live longer than now. The average life expectancy will rise from 85.93 years in 2011 to 90.93 years in 2060 for women and from 79.27 years to 84.19 years for men during the same period. Nursing care and medical services will become increasingly important. The government should show clearly the costs and benefits of such services so that people will be better prepared to accept the burden of higher social welfare costs.

The total fertility rate — the number of children the average woman is expected to give birth to during her life — is forecast to be 1.35 in 2060. This is well below the 2.07 believed to be needed to keep a population steady. The most important measure the government can take to raise the birth rate is to stabilize the employment situation for younger people so that they can afford to marry and raise families. One out of over four workers earn an annual income of less than ¥2 million. In such a situation, many people will hesitate to even marry, much less have children.

The working population — those between the ages of 15 and 64 — is expected to be 44.18 million in 2060, or 50.9 percent of the total population, compared with the 63.8 percent in 2010. The burden of social welfare costs falls on the shoulders of this group.

To help increase the labor force, the government should strengthen measures to help women continue in their careers even if they have children. Doing so will both increase the tax base and also raise the incomes of young couples, making it easier for them to have bigger families.



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