Japan's national health ministry has released the latest population stats, and it's more bad news for the world's third-largest economy and tenth-most-populous country. The Japanese population dropped by 212,000 people last year, the largest decrease on record for the country. The birth rate is still falling – there were only 1.03 million live births last year, a record low and dramatic decrease from 1.21 million the year before. And Japan is aging – with almost 40 percent of its population 65 or older, it is one of the most elderly nations on Earth.
Here's what that looks like as part of Japan's big shrink, a combination of declining birth rates and an overwhelmingly elderly population. These data, from Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs, include projections into 2050. The first chart shows Japan's population over time, and the second shows the percentage annual population change. The picture is not pretty:
The implications of Japan's demographic crisis are potentially severe. The Economist called it "the first big country in history to have started shrinking rapidly from natural causes." The basic problem is that a greater and greater share of Japan's population will retire – a particularly expensive prospect in the country, given the high median age and health-care standards – just as the workforce begins to shrink.
Debt and trade deficits are already serious issues in Japan, and the demographic crisis could make them much worse. The economic implications of a Japanese slowdown are potentially global. But how do you argue with demographics?