The announcement that Japan’s population fell by about a quarter of a million in 2013 brings up another round of discussion on Japan’s gloomy future. The common, if not widely-agreed, response to Japan’s aging population is that the shrinking population leads to less tax revenue from workers and higher healthcare bills for the elderly, both of which are burdens of the economy. For fear of the same issue, even China is adopting a less strict one-child policy. Nonetheless, according to The New Scientist, there’s a flip side of the story to show that it isn’t all bad news.
It looks like Japan’s economy has been growing at a slower rate than other rich economies. But if we look at per capita figures, Japan’s individual incomes are rising faster than those of U.S. and France, thanks to smaller population. Does it follow that the Japanese are actually better off? Let’s look at some other measures. According to Nicholas Eberstadt, a demographer at American Enterprise Institute, Japanese are the healthiest, with an average lifespan of 83 years. With a universal health care system, they surprisingly spend only 8 percent of their GDP on health care, half of what U.S. spends percentage-wise. As for education, having fewer children means less spending on education, which is probably not a small number considering Japan’s strong schooling system. Eberstadt also points out a number of indirect benefits like more living space and more arable land per person, which translate to a better quality of life for the Japanese. Because keep in mind that Japan is a small country with only 145,883 sq mi of land, but populated with 127 millions of people.
Japan is not the only country facing demographic contraction. Admittedly there’re a number of problems that follows the aging population issue, but “others believe that peak population is a necessary first step to reducing our assault on the planet’s life-support systems”. Japan sets a good first example.