East Asia is facing a population crisis as several countries in the region experience significant declines in birth rates, raising concerns about future workforce availability and economic stability. Japan, South Korea, China, and Hong Kong are among the countries most affected by this trend, prompting the need for comprehensive policies and societal changes to address the issue and its implications.
In Japan, with a record low of 840,000 births in 2021 and deaths totaling 1.4 million, the natural population decrease reached 560,000 people. This has resulted in a 15-year consecutive decline, with Japan’s total population projected to fall below 100 million by 2050. Factors contributing to this decline include a lack of work-life balance, high child-rearing costs, and a shortage of affordable childcare options. Moreover, Japan faces the challenge of a rapidly aging population, with 28% of its citizens aged over 65.
South Korea’s birth rate has also reached a historic low of 0.78 in 2022, the lowest among OECD countries. The government has implemented measures such as cash incentives, extended parental leave, and childcare subsidies, but with limited success. Young couples continue to delay or avoid marriage and children due to economic uncertainty and social pressures, while structural issues like the gender wage gap and high housing costs remain unaddresseded.
China’s population growth rate has been trending downward largely because of its 35-year “one-child” policy. Since the 1990s, China’s fertility rate – the average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime – has dropped to below the replacement level of 2.1. The replacement rate is the rate that allows the population to replace itself. The figure was 1.30 in 2020, and it fell to 1.15 in 2021.
Chinese demographers had for more than a decade campaigned to scrap the one-child policy, before the government ended it in 2015. Concerned about an aging population and shrinking work force, the government finally allowed couples to have two children in 2015 and further eased the limit to three in 2021. Studies found the rising costs of bringing up children and lack of welfare provisions to be the main reasons behind China’s low fertility rate. In recent years, the government has been desperate to boost birth rates – offering incentives such as tax breaks, subsidies for child care and longer parental leave, and discouraging abortions – but without much success. Some experts say the best officials can do is to slow the population’s decline.
In Hong Kong, the number of births in 2021 reached its lowest level since 1978. High living costs and the city’s political unrest have been attributed to this decline, as many young people leave the city in search of better opportunities. Hong Kong’s population fell by 0.9 per cent in 2022, according to provisional statistics from the Census and Statistics Department. It is the third consecutive year in which the population has fallen.
The population of Beijing, China’s capital, has fallen for the first time in two decades, official data show, in line with the general trend of the country’s declining numbers, which has stoked concerns about the nation’s economic outlook. According to statistics the government released Tuesday, Beijing’s population had fallen by 43,000 people to 21.84 million by the end of 2022.
The implications of these declining birth rates are far-reaching, with shrinking workforces leading to smaller tax bases and fewer consumers. An aging population strains social welfare programs and healthcare systems, and raises concerns about these countries’ future economic growth and competitiveness in the global market.
To tackle these challenges, experts recommend implementing comprehensive policies addressing the root causes of the declining birth rate, such as gender inequality, economic uncertainty, and social pressures. Possible measures include increasing access to affordable childcare, promoting work-life balance, and reducing housing costs.
In Japan, the government has implemented policies to address the country’s declining birth rate. One such policy is the provision of subsidies to support low-income families with childcare expenses. In addition, the government has sought to increase the availability of nursing care services to support the aging population.
South Korea has implemented measures such as providing subsidies for fertility treatments and increasing the availability of public childcare facilities. However, experts suggest that more needs to be done to address the underlying social and economic issues that contribute to the low birth rate.
In China, the government’s recent easing of the one-child policy is expected to help increase the birth rate. However, experts warn that the high cost of raising children and the lack of social welfare support for families may continue to discourage couples from having more children.
East Asia’s population crisis is a complex and multifaceted issue that requires a concerted effort from governments, policymakers, and society as a whole. Failure to address this trend could have far-reaching consequences for the region’s future prosperity and stability. Comprehensive policies that address the root causes of the declining birth rate are needed to ensure a sustainable future for these countries.