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.
Opening the country to a surge of immigrants makes sense, but Japan is not about to become an American-style melting pot, and this solution alone would be inadequate to the scale of the demographic challenge. Foreigners make up less than 2% of Japan’s population, and a United Nations report from 2001 found that Japan would need inflows averaging 609,000 immigrants per year until 2050 to maintain the percentage of its working-age population.