The challenges of population implosion will be quite different to the challenges of growing populations. Japan is facing most of these challenges earlier than the rest of the world, but what Japan faces in the next 50 years will also be faced in Europe in about 20 years, by China in 70 years and in India in about 100 years.
The challenges of an aging population are receiving much attention as the ratio of working population to supported population declines. But what receives less attention is the upheaval being caused in Japan by the sharp decline in the number of children.
From a peak of just under 30 million children (0-14 year olds) in 1955, the number has been declining. By 2050 there will be only about 10 million children in Japan. Rural schools are already being abandoned for lack of children. That in turn leads to long commutes for the children still living in rural areas. Commutes of 50km, each way, are not so rare.
QuartzMedia: About 5,800 public school buildings closed between 2002 and 2013, according to data from the Japan’s education ministry. By rights, many more schools should close for lack of students. But they remain in existence because no one can think of anything better to do with them. Of those that have closed, a few hundred have been demolished and about 1,500 schools were still on the books in 2014 in need of a new purpose, according to ministry data.
It is not just schools of course. Numbers of teachers, demands for teacher training places, school meals suppliers, uniform manufacturers and even school bus manufacturers are all facing shrinking demand. Demand for higher education places lag school places by about 15 years. Some Universities are reducing their entry requirements to fill the places they have.
Japan is among the first to face these challenges and how they cope is going to be watched with great interest.
That they will cope is not in doubt. But how they cope will provide many of the solutions that the rest of the world is going to need.