How the decline of birth rate affects Japan and China

Chen Gong

Ageing societies likely to damage society and tradition

Some years ago, think tank Anbound introduced the concepts of ageing and sub-replacement fertility into China’s public policy, and this has many far-reaching implications to the most populous country in the world.

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While many Chinese have begun to realise the issue of ageing, at the same time China’s one-child policy has also seen some changes, the number of people exposed to the sub-replacement fertility issue is comparatively less and this contributes to the increasing demographic risks faced by Chinese society.

“Sub-replacement fertility” is defined as a total fertility rate (TFR) that leads to each new generation being less populous than the previous one in a given area. Japan is one of the countries that faces a severe sub-replacement fertility issue.

Being one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, Japan is seeing rapid development and extensive social transformation.

As a result, married families in Japan are facing tense working environments, which often reduces the motivation for child-rearing, causing them to miss the opportunity to have children.

As Japan faces the problem of reduction in birth rate earlier than many other countries, there are more relevant studies in Japan regarding the issue.

Certain Japanese experts believe that if the process of birth rate decline is sustained and becomes a trend, that would be sufficient enough to meet the definition of sub-replacement fertility.


High divorce rate


In Japan, studies on sub-replacement fertility point out that the causes include the failure to establish and sustain relations, a decline in the number of people who believe in love and a high divorce rate.

If a country is late in implementing population control, it will face the pressure of high population density, resulting in sub-replacement fertility as the reaction.

The political and economic systems designed by the post-World War II baby boomers and its previous generations, as well as their social and cultural concepts, have engulfed the resources of future generations and are causing these younger people to lose faith in the future.

Economic factors such as the slowing down of economic growth and the high unemployment rate have caused the cost of childcare to be expensive.

With the increase of goods and housing prices, it is of no surprise that there is a low fertility rate. Other factors include the gap between the rich and poor, as well as education.

Now there are relatively fewer research papes in Japan concerning the impact of the declining birth rate in society; the main focus of such research is on the education sector, such as merging or reducing classes, and even abolishing the school altogether.

On the economic level, Japan realised that industries have been forced to transform. The gaming industry is mushrooming, but general industry is declining.

The impact of birth rate decline on the publishing industry is not huge, because the transformation of the industry is not complicated.

The impact is greater in business services, public services and the military sector.

Such an impact can be seen in the quality of these sectors, yet not necessarily in the number of people involved in them. This is because the recruitment units will have to bring in a new work force regardless of its quality even if the population is smaller.


Severe social problem


Generally speaking, Japan is a country that is most acutely aware of the sub-replacement fertility issue. It was the first country in the world that explicitly considered the reduction of newborns as a severe social problem and decided to adopt a systematic policy to combat the issue.

The Japanese government has come out with comprehensive strategy in this regard and even has a minister to promote and implement policies to tackle the problem.

China too is facing a declining birth rate, yet it is a completely different scenario compared with Japan.

According to demographic standards, when a society’s population range of 0-14 years old accounts for 15 percent to 18 percent of the total population, it would mean that the society is experiencing a “serious sub-replacement fertility”.

If the percentage drops to 15 percent and below, it would be “ultra-sub-replacement fertility”.

China’s sixth census reveals that the country’s total population aged 0-14 years in 2010 was 220 million, accounting for 16.6 percent of the total population, and is already at a severe level of sub-replacement fertility.

These startling data are a clear reminder to the Chinese that China is a facing a more serious birth rate decline than Japan.

It is just that China is disregarding the issue and some people even think that there is no decline in the birth rate.


Greater challenges


Anbound considers sub-replacement fertility to be the overall rejuvenation of the population in all aspects of society. While such phenomenon does bring positive effects, its negative impact will bring about greater challenges to the social order.

The decline of a young population will lead to fragmentation of the social order, system, rules, ideas, traditions and even cause industry to lose direction. There will also be the disappearance of traditions.

Because such a phenomenon is hidden beneath the facade of innovation, growth, breakthrough, subversion and even revolution, it is easy to evaluate such a situation positively. In today’s China, regardless of the fashion industry, culture or art, the target groups of products and services are mainly youths.

The naivety and low age within society caused by sub-replacement of fertility means that it would be difficult to see more mature professionals. On the contrary, there are more emotionally-inclined young people, resulting in a lower quality in the environment.

From a general logic point of view, the main method to overcome the impact of sub-replacement fertility is having a class barrier. The delicate division of classes has caused problems in the distribution of wealth but, at the same time, it has also hindered the radiation of the negative effects of urbanisation and sub-replacement fertility.

However, the problem is that all Asia, including China, lacks a delicate class division and effective class education. In this way, rapid urbanisation and the accompanying sub-replacement fertility have left potential for the instability of the social environmental to develop.


Final analysis conclusion:


Sub-replacement of fertility is silently changing China. The changes it brings are subtle, though the effects could be huge.

Chen Gong founded Anbound Think Tank in 1993. He is now Anbound chief researcher and one of China’s renowned experts in information analysis. Most of Chen’s outstanding academic research activities are in economic information analysis, particularly in the area of public policy

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