Do America’s Lower Birthrates Signal We’re Turning Japanese?

A trend in the demographics has significant consequences

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Do America’s Lower Birthrates Signal We’re Turning Japanese?

So fast, in fact, that the last Japanese will be born in 3011 — only 1,000 years from now, according to a study from Hiroshi Yoshida of Sendai.

Between the low birth rate and aging population, Japan will lose more than 33% of its population by century’s end. The Japanese government estimates that the birth rate will drop so far, so fast, that it will hit a mere 1.35 children per woman in her childbearing years within the next 50 years.

This is made worse by the fact that 36% of men between the ages of 16 and 19 have no interest in sex. More than 60% of unmarried men don’t have girlfriends while more than 50% of single women in the same age group are not dating.

So far the United States remains a highly “sexed” society but how much longer will that last? I don’t know. But the data, whether you include immigrants or not, seems to suggest that reproduction is the issue.

birth rate%20chart Do America's Lower Birthrates Signal We're Turning Japanese?

2) It’s becoming too expensive to raise children.

Raising a child from birth to the point where he or she becomes a productive adult can bankrupt even the most productive of families in Japan. My wife and I, for example, know plenty of couples who are perfectly happy not to have children because they don’t want the economic stress of raising children in Japan when the economy has been stuck in a rut since they were born.

This has significant implications, particularly when it comes to future employment and the housing recovery everybody seems so fixated on.

You can have the best jobs in the world, but if there’s nobody to fill them, the point is moot. Productivity per worker may rise, but barring the massive advances in robotics and other compensatory technologies everybody expects, overall productivity will decline.

As for housing, it’s much the same story. People may not think immediately about this, but in Japan where we’ve seen this play out over 20+ years, the results are extremely evident. Rural housing remains but a fraction of what it cost at the height of Japanese prowess. Many homes are simply empty and decaying.

Banking debt there remains underestimated even today and construction companies are confounded by staggering low levels of new housing formation (the numbers of new families being formed) and the number of young people moving permanently back in with their parents.

It will be the same here in 30 years’ time.

3) Technology provides limited compensation.

Many people assume that the use of robotics and other technology will help alleviate the burden associated with aging. I share that opinion but believe it will do nothing to change the societal impact of bad economic conditions on fertility rates.

More than 50% of the world’s population now lives in countries with falling and, more specifically, below- replacement fertility numbers. That number was a mere 8% in 1970, according to an older paper by Nobel laureate Professor Gary Becker of the University of Chicago and a deep thinker when it comes to the effects of low birth rates on future economic activity.

4) Immigration might help in the short term but can’t solve the problem.

One of the reasons that Japan is in such trouble is the near- complete lack of a workable immigration policy. Migrant workers remain tightly controlled and their children are not recognized as Japanese citizens — even if they are born on Japanese soil.

Japan has experienced a tremendous shift in education, how young people are employed, and a dramatic polarization of younger versus older members of their society. Have s and have- not s are not the issue. What seems to be at stake is the sentiment that the older generation has had it all, while leaving tremendous burdens to the younger generation that they didn’t sign up for.

We’ve had tremendous immigration into the United States but that appears to be flattening, and our immigration policy remains a wreck despite the fact that it’s very different from Japan’s.

5) Politicians may not be able to fix this

America, like Japan, is torn on many levels. We are looking to Washington with ba ted breath, hoping our leaders can solve our problems — but that may be completely futile.

Even if our politicians come to their senses tomorrow, they may not be able to fix this. And, if there is a lesson to be learned from Japan, perhaps that’s it.

Demographics is not a policy issue. Declining birth rates are about demographics. They are inescapable.

That’s why we must continue to invest in companies that favor the aging population, create technologies we need as oppose to those we simply want, and that pay us for the risks we take.

 
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Article printed from InvestorPlace Media, http://investorplace.com/2012/12/do-americas-lower-birthrates-signal-were-turning-japanese/.

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