What would Zobrist think about Japan’s shrinking population?

Readers of Dan Brown’s Inferno know that one of the novel’s main characters, the mad scientist Zobrist, is obsessed with global population growth as the main problem in the planet’s future. He favors drastic steps to try to alter the equation. For all his alleged genius, however, Zobrist makes a very basic error in projecting world population growth in linear fashion, ignoring many indicators that the current trendlines suggest slowing population growth worldwide, and even contraction in a few places that were once considered overpopulated. Japan is a good example of the latter. On demographics, policymakers in Japan tend to worry more about the shrinking population, particularly the shrinking number of young workers. Innovative thinking in Japanese demography is focused on reversing their “birth dearth,” rather than Zobrist’s (and Dan Brown’s) fears about growing population.

According to a recent report in the Japan Times:

Japan’s population fell by a record 244,000 in 2013, according to health ministry estimates released on Wednesday, highlighting concerns over an ever-dwindling workforce supporting a growing number of pensioners. An estimated 1,031,000 babies were born in 2013, down about 6,000 from a year earlier, the ministry said. On the other hand, around 1,275,000 people died — up about 19,000 from the previous year, the highest annual rise since World War II. As a result, the natural population decline came to a record 244,000, the ministry said, beating the previous highest fall of 219,000 in 2012.

Japan’s population totalled 126,393,679 as of March 31, down 0.21 percent from a year earlier, according to a government figure. It has continually declined since 2007 by natural attrition — deaths minus births.

Japan is rapidly greying, with more than 20 percent of the population aged 65 or over — one of the highest proportions of elderly people in the world. The country has very little immigration and any suggestion of opening its borders to young workers who could help plug the population gap provokes strong reactions among the public.

The proportion of people aged 65 or over will reach nearly 40 percent of the population in 2060, according to a 2012 government report.


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