An Aging Population & Low Birth Rate – 2007


Preface: I’m a firm believer there’s no better place to be than where one finds themself – peaceful communities arise through the acceptance and acknowledgment of those in their midst, peaceful individuals arise through the acceptance and acknowledgment of the communities they inhabit – both function well with a measured level of respect, humility, understanding and consideration, regardless of national border or personal identity. Culture, like language, is a living embodiment of interactions between individuals in a society, and on a metaphysical level, between the individual and society. Life, it might be said, is the narrative spun both through, and by these interactions.


To call Canada and Japan the same would be akin to showing someone an apple and a cherry while trying to convince them they were the same thing – regardless of name, even blindfolded the subject’s countenance might register a markedly different taste. But despite taste, and texture, color and feel, apples and cherries find themselves fruit in the same manner that Canada and Japan find themselves countries. In particular, both are faced with an aging population and low birth rate.


Although the latest figures show a slight rebound in Japan’s birth rate, the total fertility rate needed to avoid population decline has itself been in decline since 1973. Even if the birth rate were to increase during the next decade, the number of Japanese women having children is set to shrink sharply over the coming 15 years. Such figures coupled with a rapidly aging demographic are cause for concern: projections for 2050 forecast an elderly population that outranks the young by roughly 3:1. The outlook in Canada is eerily similar. Despite an increase in births since 2000, Statistics Canada reports show a fertility rate in overall decline since the 1970s: by 2031 seniors over 65 years of age will outnumber Canadian children under 15 by approximately 2:1. Make no mistake, Japan and Canada have populations that are still growing – but over the next 20 years they’re set to age – rapidly.


With these figures come a plethora of concerns: feasibility of pension and healthcare systems, social security issues, the economic burden placed on a young generation, not to mention the future outlook for both countries.


Over the past five years, Canada’s immigration policies have made up for 60% of it’s population growth, attracting nearly 200 000 new immigrants each year – a far cry from Japan’s closed-door policies. However, even if Japan seriously considered immigration reforms to address domestic labour concerns, neither country would find immigration alone the requisite answer to an aging population and low birth rate. The solutions, it seems, need to run deep and find their roots in programs that encourage and support family structure, regardless of whether that family finds themselves newly arrived immigrants in a land of multi-ethnicities, or multi-generational heirs to traditional land. Canadian and Japanese families need to be encouraged to have children and supported with policies that allow parents to be parents: fully funded maternity leaves, flexible employment practices, child benefit allowances, and a reinvestment in early education. Both countries need to address the ramifications posed by a rapidly aging population and low birth rate, and realize that as with the environment, family concerns are implicitly tied to future economic realities.