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Japan is rapidly losing population—and half the world is about to join it

Reuters/Kim Kyung Hoon
“Therapeutic robots” will compensate for the increasing lack of real people for the elderly to hug.
  • Adam Pasick
By Adam Pasick

Senior Editor

AfricaPublished This article is more than 2 years old.

Japan is shrinking at a record pace. The country lost 244,000 people in 2013 as births plunged and deaths soared. It faces the prospect of losing a third of its population in the next 50 years, raising fears about its economic prospects and labor market.

But while Japan may be grabbing headlines, with its alleged aversion to sex and a sudden need for more eldercare robots and adult diapers, its predicament is one that much of the world will soon have to face. According to the United Nations, some 48% of the world’s people lives in a country where birthrates are not sufficient to sustain existing populations: All of Europe except Iceland, BRIC mainstays Brazil, Russia, and China, and even some emerging markets like Vietnam.

That means that Japan may be ahead of the curve in dealing with the problems of an aging population (40% of Japanese will be over 65 by the year 2060) and not enough babies (there were 6,000 fewer births in 2013 than the previous year), but is not alone.

The exception to this demographic trend is the United States, which has similarly low birthrates, but is taking in more than a million immigrants a year. Because of that factor—which could change dramatically depending on the fate of long-stalled US immigration reform—the US is one of eight countries that are expected to account for half of all population growth between 2013 and 2100. The other seven are Nigeria, India, Tanzania, Congo, Niger, Uganda and Ethiopia.

It’s no surprise that African countries make up the bulk of the list: The continent contains 29 of the 31 “high fertility” countries highlighted by the UN (pdf), which is why Africa’s population is expected to roughly double in the next 36 years, reaching a projected 2.4 billion in 2050. Excluding Africa, the world’s population is only expected to grow by just over 10% by 2100. China, by contrast, will peak at 1.4 billion people in 2025 and fall back to just over 1 billion by 2100.

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