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Birth Slump

June 1st, 2005

Japan’s birth rate has been slow for some time, but now the rate has slowed below what was predicted. The national birthrate in Japan is down to 1.29 (just a shade below), marking its lowest point ever. The rate has been low for some time, but the fact that it is still going down is a worrying point for the country.

PopchThe immediate concern is for retirement pensions: supported by the present workforce, it buckles when the number of retirees swells and workers shrinks–and that’s just what is happening. The post-war baby boom is close to retirement, and Japan has fewer young people working to support them.

Fixes have been in the works for years. As early as 1980, Japan required the minimum mandatory retirement age to be gradually raised from 55 to 60, the goal to be reached by 1998; in 2000 (and through to 2004), the youngest permissible mandatory retirement age was raised again to 65, to be reached by 2013. With the largest number of retirees reaching retirement age at present, it is unlikely that future boosts would do anything in time.

There is also an economic reason to avoid hikes in the mandatory retirement age. Japanese men often wish to work beyond that age, and companies take advantage of that, sometimes forcing them to retire, and then accepting them back afterwards at greatly reduced pay rates. Sometimes the retirees could not even achieve that; many switch over to what are effectively make-work jobs. Try parking a bike outside a train station before 10 am–you’ll likely be approached and chided by retirees working as bike parking police.

The decrease in the birth rate also affects my own profession, colleges. The decrease in population will continue for another few years and will then level out, but the overall number of students is also at a record low. In a few years, the number of students of college age will, for the first time, fall to or even below the number of available openings in colleges and universities. Fortunately for my school, Japanese institutes of higher education are slow to change; they are still stuck in the same mode they were when applicants far outstripped available seats, and when what you studied was less important than what school you got into. They still focus less on delivering an actual education at a time when businesses no longer wish to spend money to train workers themselves, as they did during the boom years. As a result, colleges which aim to deliver marketable skills are still not so common in Japan, making foreign institutions such as my own more attractive to students who look forward and see what will work best for them.

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  1. glenn w
    June 2nd, 2005 at 09:58 | #1

    Glenn is sitting by my side as I write this. He’s fascinated by the whole blog thing. I should really be emailing this, but I’m showing Glenn how one would comment on your blog.


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