Population Resource Center
   SEARCH    Powered by GOOGLE
Home About PRC Programs Issues Resources Contact Us  

Executive Summary:
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 1998.

- 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.

Labor Force

- 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 often men.

Economic Status

- 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, prc@prcnj.org, 15 Roszel Road, Princeton, NJ 08540; or visit our website at www.prcnj.org

Copyright © 2004 Population Resource Center. All rights reserved.