In COVID-19's wake, Japan faces a bleaker future

Japan Times -- Apr 24
The Black Death that ravaged Europe in the 14th century wreaked profound long-term effects. Some historians believe it took 80 years for human populations to recover in most parts of the continent, and well over a century in certain areas.

Much is being reported on the impact of the current pandemic in economic terms, but less so in demographic terms, which are harder to compile in real time.

Writing in Shukan Shincho (April 15), journalist Masashi Kawai has done some number-crunching and comes to the terrifying conclusion that 2021 will be remembered as the year of the “baby shock,” in which Japan’s already low birth rate will decline to the extent that already gloomy projections for population figures will be accelerated by roughly 18 years.

This is calculated on the basis of a 10% drop in new pregnancies and marriages, resulting in the combined figure of 750,000 for 2021 — a level that had previously been projected for 2039. In other words, what had been a gradual decline has turned into a collapse.

Numerous factors may be at work. Firstly, women are afraid to enter hospitals to give birth over fears of contracting COVID-19. The pandemic also discourages the traditional practice of expectant mothers returning to their parents’ hometowns to give birth and recuperate. And the third factor is economic, brought about by such things as anxieties over declining household income.

The implications will be broad and far-reaching, With a declining working population, unless a substantial foreign labor pool can be secured, small- and medium-sized businesses in particular are likely to fail due to a shortage of workers.

Nor will the higher ratio of people 65 and older in the population mean more consumption by that age segment. Out of fears of serious illness or death from COVID-19, older people have become less mobile. With lack of physical exercise and mental stimulation aggravating their frail conditions, intervention is likely to be needed sooner.

- Japan Times