Friday, April 20, 2012

Raising Children In the Land Of the Rising Sun

Dear me, the threatened longer CFR version of this New York Times op-ed looks as though it is going to be a total, alarmist, misleading waste of time.
Mind the Baby Gap
by Steven Philip Kramer

Although overpopulation plagues much of the developing world, many developed societies are now suffering from the opposite problem: birthrates so low that each generation is smaller than the previous one. Much of southern and eastern Europe, as well as Austria, Germany, Russia and the developed nations of Southeast Asia, have alarmingly low fertility rates, with women having, on average, fewer than 1.5 children each, well below the replacement level.

At the same time, life expectancies in those places have reached record highs. As a result, the dependency ratio — the ratio of the working population to the nonworking population — has become increasingly unfavorable, and it is projected to get more so. Making matters worse is that economic growth gets harder to achieve as workers age and their ranks dwindle; aging societies will have a tough time succeeding in an era of rapid technological change.

Population decline poses a danger to the developed world. Yet there is nothing inevitable about it. History shows that governments can raise birthrates close to replacement levels if they adopt the right policies. France and Sweden, for example, have crafted thoughtful, comprehensive and consistent policy responses that have largely reversed their declining birthrates over the long run.

France was the first country to experience a declining birthrate in the 19th century. French leaders blamed the country’s defeat in 1940 on its stagnating demographic, economic and social development. If France was to regain its status, it needed a new dynamism — more social justice, a stronger economy and faster population growth. So France tried to plan itself out of industrial underdevelopment and demographic decay, and it did so through, above all, a generous program of financial support for families with children.

Sweden suffered from extremely low birthrates in the 1930s. When the Social Democrats came to power at the height of the Great Depression, one of their economic strategists was Gunnar Myrdal, who in 1934, with his wife Alva, wrote a best-selling book on the population crisis. It argued that if Sweden was to boost its birthrates, women had to be able to both raise children and have careers — a revolutionary idea at the time...

Especially since the very same paper published the below op-ed five weeks ago.
The Fertility Implosion
by David Brooks

When you look at pictures from the Arab spring, you see these gigantic crowds of young men, and it confirms the impression that the Muslim Middle East has a gigantic youth bulge — hundreds of millions of young people with little to do. But that view is becoming obsolete. As Nicholas Eberstadt and Apoorva Shah of the American Enterprise Institute point out, over the past three decades, the Arab world has undergone a little noticed demographic implosion. Arab adults are having many fewer kids.

Usually, high religious observance and low income go along with high birthrates. But, according to the United States Census Bureau, Iran now has a similar birth rate to New England — which is the least fertile region in the U.S.

The speed of the change is breathtaking. A woman in Oman today has 5.6 fewer babies than a woman in Oman 30 years ago. Morocco, Syria and Saudi Arabia have seen fertility-rate declines of nearly 60 percent, and in Iran it’s more than 70 percent. These are among the fastest declines in recorded history.

The Iranian regime is aware of how the rapidly aging population and the lack of young people entering the work force could lead to long-term decline. But there’s not much they have been able to do about it. Maybe Iranians are pessimistic about the future. Maybe Iranian parents just want smaller families.

As Eberstadt is careful to note, demographics is not necessarily destiny. You can have fast economic development with low fertility or high fertility (South Korea and Taiwan did it a few decades ago). But, over the long term, it’s better to have a growing work force, not one that’s shrinking compared with the number of retirees.

If you look around the world, you see many other nations facing demographic headwinds. If the 20th century was the century of the population explosion, the 21st century, as Eberstadt notes, is looking like the century of the fertility implosion...

Each country has its unique combination of reasons for its fertility collapse. A willy-nilly reproduction (pun unintended) of the French or the Swedish models, without taking into account the the cultural, institutional, economic, immigration policy, ethnic profile and country size and location aspects bracketing those models, is playing with fire.

In this blessed land, the government has experimented with codifying generous leave rights for women and now men. It conducted a successful crash program to build day care centers in the 1990s (contrary to the conventional wisdom, waiting lists for day care center spaces are an extremely limited and localized phenomenon). As a part of an economic stimulus program, it has experimented with direct payments of subsidies to parents of children, without means testing (50% of which ended up, due to the law of unintended consequences and personal asset management advice printed in women's magazines, in bank savings accounts -- precisely where the government did not want its stimulus money to go).

The one salient fact that has seemingly never sunk into policy makers heads is that married women now are having children at the same rate they were four decades ago. The difference is that women are marrying in their thirties, meaning that their window of fertility is smaller. The issue is getting men and women to marry young, either by setting up their own households or by living with their inlaws in large houses.

If the government can also find ways of making the finding of jobs more secure -- which means encouraging flexible employment practices and the eradication of the bias against who choose or must suffer job mobility -- above and beyond the considerable efforts it has tried to make, then the birthrate "crisis" would ease.

Due to what has gone on over the last 30 years, this blessed land's population is set to drop no matter what -- last year's drop of more than a quarter of a million citizens serving as a wake up call of dramatic falls lying ahead (E). Making young people feel safe about marrying young would, however, ease the decline.


Jan Moren said...

Making it feasible for young people to marry without first having to collect all the traditional safety items - salaried job with health and pension benefits, funds for a home and so on - would certainly be a way forward.

But one general problem - a problem in many parts of the world - is that larger and larger cohorts go on to university. This is mostly a good thing of course, but it means men and women both are still in school, with no financial independence or clue what they will do when they grow up, for many of those prime childbearing years.

How to solve that without, say, reversing the trend of women getting higher education, is the big question. Encourage non-married couples to procreate? Promote and support single motherhood? I don't know.

Anonymous said...

When the news cycle alternates between graduates having difficulties finding jobs and demographic problem of lack of young people, the problem can't be that straight forward nor necessarily that alarming.


Seri said...

I think we also have to consider making marriage and a family more appealing to all the Japanese women who are choosing to remain single. They know that if they get married they will be expected to quit their jobs and become a full-time housewife, and if it doesn't happen at marriage it WILL happen when pregnancy comes along. And I think many don't want that loss of independence and role of servitude to a family and a home; they see what their own mothers are like and they don't want that for themselves. I think until attitudes change about a woman's role at home, many women will continue to opt out and thus less children will be born. (I have no idea how those attitudes could be persuaded to change, seeing how heavily entrenched they are, though I believe they should be.)
(And going along with that, men have established roles at home as well--the thought of a husband shopping, cooking, and cleaning is currently absurd, after all!--so that would also need to change.)

I sort of have a feeling this is why many Japanese women marry and procreate with western men instead, because they want a way out of the Japanese expectations of housewife and mother. This is just one part of the problem, but I don't think it should be overlooked.

Troy said...

The first author:

"Making matters worse is that economic growth gets harder to achieve as workers age and their ranks dwindle; aging societies will have a tough time succeeding"

is linking economic "growth" with societal "success".

This is excessively sloppy thinking.

Now, I don't know what's going to happen to Japan this century but I suspect it's going to be more pleasant for Japan than eg. the US.

Japan currently owes around one quadrillion yen to itself and enjoys a $3T net creditor status in the word at large (indeed, it is still the wealthiest nation on the planet by this measure).

AFAICT the first number is meaningless and the 2nd is of critical importance.

When Japan was growing demographically it had to make massive investments in public goods and general infrastructure.

This consumed much of its economic output.

But now that it is on the demographic downslope it no longer has to expand this way, it only has to maintain and recycle what it has already constructued, and this is MUCH cheaper than building it in the first place.

Japan's population is going to HALVE by 2050.

Japan's annual live births is down to 1M, about one-half the rate of the baby boom echo of the early 1970s.

What this means is that there will be less resources necessary to invest in bringing up the next generation, and potentially this next generation will have TWICE the resources and opportunities of the echo generation that is now turning 40.

A nation that can feed, house, hospital, educate, clothe, and entertain itself is a wealthy society.

Japan can do this, even with all its heavy investment in nuclear power stopped cold at the moment.

The real fact of the matter, AFAICT, is that the Japanese exceeded the carrying capacity of the island some time last century and it was only fortuitous timing wrt the American Century and Japan's favored (and well-played) place within it that allowed the nation to do so well economically.

The Japan of 2050 with 65M Japanese is going to be an immensely wealthier society than today's 130M.

While it is true Japan is not going to have the "bodies" to compete with China, that's OK. Life this century does not yet have the prospect of that great a life & death struggle between societies.

One interesting, if sexist and elitist factoid I thought of is . . . if one takes the putative idea that the top 1% elite men of each year are the ones that effect the greatest positive change -- the captains of industry, the geniuses of arts and sciences -- Japan's annual crop of such elite men is currently just 5,000 men.

The fate of the nation will be laid on 5,000-man annual cohorts later this century!

Troy said...

Another thing that's important to understand about Japan's demographics is that the picture from now is not really a crisis, since Japan's postwar baby boom only lasted 3-4 years, unlike the US's 18-year boom with the center of mass being born in 1955, peak at 1957, and end around 1964.

The US's population of seniors is going to DOUBLE between 2000 and 2030, moving from 40M to 80M retirees. And that doesn't count the tens of millions of immigrants we've 'welcomed', too.

This graph is best at showing the shape of Japan's demographic decline. Senior-age people are going to grow a bit from here, but the transition is smooth.

The US, on the other hand, is going to expand at both the bottom and the top of the demographics -- by 2030 we're going to have 10M more school-age children than now along with 30M more retirees.

I think I'd rather have Japan's economic challenges to solve than the US's at any rate.

Jan Moren said...

Seri, if you have hard numbers I'd love to see them, but last time I looked it did not seem like Westerners - or foreigners in general - are overrepresented among marriages. Intercultural marriages seem to happen at the rate you would expect among people of the same age and socioeconomic status.

Which is not to take away from your greater point; I wholly agree that this is a factor.

It seems to me that in general, it's the societies that try to mix economic modernism with social conservatism that are most likely to suffer from very low birth rates. Korea, Italy, Japan - many of these countries still cling to rather old-fashioned views on gender roles, marriage and lifestyles, while selling - or demanding - a modern, liberal, competitive lifestyle in other respects.