Burden-sharing a remedy for falling birth rates in East Asia

Author: Mary C Brinton, Harvard University

East Asian countries now have the lowest fertility rates in the world. Japan was the first in the region to experience birth rates below population-replacement level, dipping below two children per woman in the late 1970s.

Playtime at a Babu Land childcare centre at a Toyota plant in Japan (Photo: Toyota Motor Corporation).

While Japan’s current fertility rate is higher than those of other societies in East Asia such as Singapore and Hong Kong, its decades of low fertility mean that it is the most rapidly ageing population in the region and is facing severe labour shortages. The Japanese government reported that fewer babies were born in 2018 than in any year since 1899, the first year that records were kept. Other East Asian societies look to be on track to follow in Japan’s footsteps.

There are two solutions to population decline: increase immigrant flows or raise the birth rate. East Asian societies show mixed records on the former. Japan has wrestled with debates over immigration for decades and only recently started to adapt its policies to incorporate more foreigners into the labour force. Whether new migrants will come to Japan only short term or stay in the country to marry and raise families is an open question. More foreign labour will certainly help alleviate labour shortages, but whether it will have a more enduring effect remains to be seen.

If immigration is not necessarily the panacea, what is? Making it possible …continue reading