Population Trends in Japan
- With a land area of 146,000 square
miles, Japan is slightly smaller than California. It consists of four major
islands and approximately 3,900 smaller islands, extending 2,400 miles from
north to south along the coast of East Asia. Most Japanese live on the island of
Honshu, with smaller populations on the southern islands of Kyushu and Shikoku
and a sparse population on Hokkaido in the north.
- Because much of the surface area is
mountainous and volcanic, only 28 percent of the land is inhabited. More than 78
percent of the population lives in urban areas, up from 50 percent in 1950.
Tokyo is home to over one quarter of the total population.
- In 1946 Japan became a constitutional
monarchy, with the Emperor retaining his throne as a symbol of national unity.
The head of government is the Prime Minister. The Parliament, or Diet, is made
up of an Upper and a Lower House, the House of Councilors and the House of
Representatives, respectively. The conservative Liberal Democratic Party has
held power since 1955 through a working majority in the Diet. In 2001, Junichiro
Koizumi, a reform candidate within the LDP, was elected Japan’s 87th
Prime Minister. Koizumi announced plans to implement a "Ceaseless Reform
Cabinet" in order to regain Japanese faith in the government and restore
the sagging economy.
Population Size and Fertility
- With 127.1 million people, Japan is the
ninth most populous country in the world. In 1970, the population stood at 104
million. At the current growth rate of 0.2 percent annually, the population
would double in 347 years. Because the total fertility rate is 1.3 births per
woman, considerably lower than the replacement level of 2.1, however, the rate
of growth will diminish each year as the gap between births and deaths narrows.
Infant mortality is currently 3.4 deaths per 1000 births, one of the lowest in
the world. If the trends of the last few decades continue, the population is
expected to begin declining after 2015, return to 124 million by 2020, drop to
120 million in 2025 and to 101 million by 2050.
- Japan’s post-war baby boom was
followed by a period of declining fertility, facilitated by increased access to
family planning as well as liberal abortion laws. A baby boom echo peaked in
1973, after which the birth rate resumed its fall. Later marriage and the
financial strains of raising children have contributed to the shift toward
smaller families. In 1995, Japanese households averaged 2.82 persons. The
consequences of below-replacement fertility are already evident in the present
dearth of young workers and the steadily rising percentage of the population
that is elderly.
- Fifty-six percent of women between the
ages of 15 and 49 utilize some form of family planning with over 57 percent
using a modern method. Condom use accounts for 80 percent of all contraceptive
use in Japan. In August of 1999, after two weeks of deliberation, Viagra was
approved. Soon thereafter, the 20-year debate over birth control pills ended and
Japan became one of the last countries in the world to approve the pill.
- Japan has a particularly homogenous
population -less than 2 percent of the populace is non-Japanese -primarily as a
result of strict anti-immigration laws. However, the minority populations are
growing steadily. In 2000 there were over 1.6 million foreign residents in
Japan, an increase of more than 130,000 over the previous year. Koreans
accounted for more than 51 percent of them, followed by ethnic Chinese. The next
largest groups were Brazilians, Filipinos, and Americans. The number of South
Americans is growing most rapidly.
- While a large group of foreign
residents, mostly Korean and Chinese, are descendants of laborers brought
forcibly to Japan in the 1930s and 1940s for its war industries, many recent
immigrants are from countries where the economies are faring poorly. Filling the
demand for labor in Japan’s construction and service sectors, the number of
illegal foreign workers is growing steadily.
- In 1947, average life expectancy was 54
years for women and 50 for men. Today, Japan has the highest life expectancy in
the world: 84 years for women and 77 for men. The normal age at retirement has
been 60, and with increasing years of retirement, social security spending has
soared from 6.9% of national income in 1970 to 14.4% in 1980 and as high as 19%
- In 2001, more than 16 percent of the
population was over age 65, and this proportion is expected to rise to 27
percent by 2045. The "graying of Japan" is predicted to put tremendous
pressure on younger members of society in the form of increased medical expenses
and socio-economic support for the elderly. It is increasingly difficult to care
for older people at home because more women are joining the labor force, and
there are fewer children to share the caregiving responsibilities. The
government has taken steps to adjust to an aging population by expanding health
and welfare services for the elderly. The public pension system was also
extensively revised in 1986 and 1994, increasing the eligible age from 60 to 65.
- The aging of the population is likely to
be accompanied by a general shift in the focus of the economy toward leisure,
including travel, in order to cater to retirees. Also, as retirement spending
increases, Japan’s savings rate is expected to decline from 14.8 percent in
2000 to 9.0 percent by 2010.
- Postwar jobless rates did not exceed 2
percent until the oil crisis in the mid-70s disrupted the economy causing
unemployment rates to rise to 2.8 percent in 1986 and 1987. By 2001, the
unemployment rate had reached an all time high of 5 percent, reflecting the
slowing of economic conditions in Japan.
Unemployment Rates (1984 - 2000)
In 2001, Japan’s labor force had approximately 67 million workers, 40
percent of whom were women. The Ministry of Labor predicts that the working
population will begin to contract in 2005. By 2020, the working population is
expected to stand at 64 million and to continue to decrease at a rate of 0.5
percent each year.
The Status of Women
- The role of women in society changed
substantially in the latter half of the 20th century. As a result of
the U.S. occupation after World War II, Japanese women were granted all the
rights of their American counterparts. No longer confined to the traditional
role of housewife, women in modern Japanese society are more educated and far
more likely to be employed in nonagricultural work than their mothers.
- With an adult literacy rate of over 99
percent, Japan ranks as one of the most highly educated nations in the world.
Education in Japan consists of 6 years of elementary school after which more
than 99.9 percent of students proceed to 3 years of middle school. Beyond middle
school, 95.9 percent of students move on to high school. The number of women
continuing their education in junior colleges and universities has risen each
year. Figures from 2000 indicate that 17.2 percent of women and 1.9 percent of
men entered junior colleges, while 31.5 percent of women and 47.5 percent of men
went on to college or university.
- The number of women in the labor force
has grown faster than the number of men since 1976, and females accounted for
over 40 percent of the total work force in 2000. Higher employment rates for
women have been accompanied by later age at first marriage and fewer children.
Between 1975 and 1995, the average age at marriage rose from 24.5 to 27.7 for
women and from 27.6 to 30.7 for men. Over the same time period, the percentage
of people never married increased from 5 to 15 percent for women and from 6 to
22 percent for men.
- The Labor Standards Law provides for
equal pay for men and women. The average wage remains substantially lower,
however, than that of men; in 1999, it was around 63 percent of the male
average. This gap can be attributed to a variety of factors, including
discrimination and differences in academic background, employment areas, and
years with the company. In addition, dependent and housing allowances, which are
received along with wages, are normally paid to household heads, who are most
- During 2001, Japan entered its third
economic recession in the last ten years, and in 2002, the Bank of Japan
described the economy as "bottoming out". Despite some modest signs of
growth in the first half of 2002, real GDP is likely to continue to shrink and
Japan will face its fourth year of falling prices. Real economic growth in Japan
will depend on internal structural changes but also on changes in world markets,
foreign exchange and other global factors.
- Low stock and real estate prices marked
the end of the economic growth enjoyed by Japan in the 1980s. The Asian
financial crisis had a huge impact on the economy overall, bringing GDP growth
down from 4 percent annually in the 80s to 1.25 percent during most of the 90s.
These problems are expected to worsen as a result of decreasing exports to the
United States after the events of September 11th. Despite the fact
that Japan is currently experiencing its worst recession since World War II, it
has promising economic prospects in the long run.
- Over the past forty years, Japan’s
manufacturing industry has prospered, making the country an economic leader with
a GNP of $32,030 in 2000. Industry is largely dependent on raw material imports
and industrial exports. The U.S., Japan’s largest export market, received 31
percent of Japanese exports in 2000.
- Japan imports 99 percent of its oil, and
it is more dependent on imported food than any other industrial nation.
Agriculture, mining, and related activities together contributed only 2 percent
to GDP in 1999, while industry accounted for close to 35 percent and services
(including distribution) for about 63 percent.
This executive summary was prepared by Jennifer Wasserman of the
Population Resource Center in January of 2002 and reviewed by Elise Jones, PhD.
Sources include publications from the Population Reference Bureau, the Japan
Information Network and BBC News. For more information or specific citations,
please contact PRC at (609) 452-2822, email@example.com, 15 Roszel Road, Princeton,
NJ 08540; or visit our website at www.prcnj.org