Japan’s Secret Demographic Weapon

As the annual World Bank/IMF meetings get underway in Tokyo, Japanese leaders must confront an unfolding demographic disaster. Encouraging more immigration is unlikely to be adequate to stem the steep decline in population, but policymakers could largely solve the problem by boosting Japanese women's participation in the workforce.

NEW YORK – As the annual World Bank/International Monetary Fund meetings get underway in Tokyo, Japanese leaders must confront an unfolding demographic disaster. Japan’s National Institute of Population and Social Security Research recently forecast that by 2060, the country will have lost nearly one-third of its 2010 population of 128 million, and just half of this smaller population will be between 15 and 65 years old – the most productive age group in any economy.

These are the kinds of numbers usually produced by wars and epidemics, and they imply both a dramatic drop in the number of young people able to provide for their elders and a much greater debt burden for a country that is already carrying one of the world’s heaviest.

To solve this problem, Japan’s political leaders have three options: find some way to raise the country’s birthrate dramatically, open a long-insular society to a wave of immigrants, or finally unveil the country’s secret weapon – the energy, talents, and ingenuity of Japanese women.

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