Ageing Demographic in Japan & the 6th Stage of the Transition Model


Population monitoring is an essential tool for our modern world because it helps to quantify the growth of the populace and assess how these changes will affect the planet as a whole. Some countries are worried about overpopulation and others about under-population. Countries such as China and India, which are in stage three of the demographic transition model, are experiencing decreased death rates even though the country’s birth rates are still high. China is worried about overpopulation, so it has introduced policies such as the “One child policy”, which did help to reduce the birth rates. Although India has the same problem, they have not instituted any policies to check their population growth.

The condition of overpopulation is a problem that many developing countries must deal with and, in the case of Japan the reduction in births combined with the longevity of life has created an inverted dynamic of the demographic model.  As the global population continues to grow, the planet is struggling to provide everyone with the essential resources to live. The water supply is short and there are already future wars predicted over the resource. The same with food, we are not able to reproduce it fast enough in order to feed everyone. Overpopulation causes pollution and taxation of natural resources. Currently, we are reaching the limits of oil reserves and lots of forest is being cut out like the Amazon rain forest. In the developed countries such as Japan, the situation is different. As there is more education provided, women think more about their careers than about immediately starting families, so either they have no children at all or they have few at an older age using family planning.

Concepts of Population

Human geography focuses on human groups and their accomplishments, such as language, industry, and the building of cities, making it a social science. Regional geography describes and analyzes places in terms of categories such as local population, customs, politics, economy, and religion (Libicki, et al., 2011). The depiction typically begins with a description of the local physical environment, such as the climate, land-forms, soils, and other physical attributes (Libicki, et al., 2011). Density describes the rate of incidence in relation to geographic area of the occurrence, usually expressed as a number per square kilometer or square mile (Morgan, 2013). The term concentration refers to the distribution of the phenomenon within a given area with respect to the proximity of the instances such that if they are close together they are considered concentrated, but if they are scattered far from each other they are described as dispersed (Libicki, et al., 2011).

Diffusion is the process of an item or feature spreading through time. Relocation diffusion transpires between extensively separated points, as in a nomadic tribe peripatetic until locates similar grounds to settle on separating it from contiguous, or contagious diffusion, which has historically been instigated by the dispersion of artistic styles and spreads from one place to a neighboring place through direct contact, similar to the spread of a contagious disease (Morgan, 2013). The fertility rate refers to the number of live births in a population relative to the number of women of reproductive age, which is considered between around 15-44 years old (Angeles, 2010). This can be expressed as a number per 1,000 or as a number out of another number, such as 1.6 children per woman (Morgan, 2013). The mortality rate is the number of deaths in a population, measured in a similar fashion to the fertility rates, such as 9 out of 1,000 individuals.

Other terms that are used when talking about demography include age composition and life expectancy, whereas the age composition of a population delineates the age structure of the population and the life expectancy indicates how old each individual is expected to age. In Japan, the life expectancy of men is about 87years women are expected to live for 81 years and the age composition of the population is described as having a large number of older individuals (CIA World Fact Book, 2012). The demography of Japan is illustrated in the population pyramid in Figure 1, which is used to illustrate information about age composition and life expectancy (Haub, 2007).

Figure 1: Japan Demography by Age and Sex, 2055 Projections

This pyramid illustrates the projected demography of Japan for the year 2055, showing that as much as 19% of Japan’s population will be over the age of retirement, including as many as 634,000 centenarians (Coulmas, 2007). The decrease in the number of births is expected to have the effect of decreasing the country’s population from its current account of about 128 million to about 90 million (CIA World Fact Book, 2012). The consequences for the country’s birth restrictions have facilitated the modern concerns regarding Japan’s birth rate, which has reached the state of a national crisis (Haub, 2007). Although young couples are now encouraged to have more children, it will take much more than that to change the projection model in Figure 1 significantly enough to pull Japan out of the instability of Stage Five and back to the security of Stage Four (Haub, 2007).

Demographic Transition Model

The demographic transition theory is a concept used to explain the phases of population growth for developing nations over time (Angeles, 2010). Prior to industrialization, many nations had extremely high birth and death rates, but they were almost congruent, so the population was able to remain stable, as illustrated in Figure 2, adapted from (Glenn, 22013). Analysis of the difference between birth and death rates and study of the population growth enables theorists to evaluate how populations increase based on its development (Angeles, 2010). This discourse will continue to explain the first five stages of the demographic transition theory model, as it is divided into five stages, and theorists speculate that there may be a sixth stage (Angeles, 2010).

Figure 2: Five Stage Demographic Transition Model

As the model demonstrates, during Stage One, the prevalence of poor living conditions and disease cause high mortality rates that nullify the high birth rates, preventing population growth and not many countries are currently at this stage in modern times (Morgan, 2013). During Stage Two, improved quality of life through adequate health care, sanitation, and nutritious food improves health and mortality rates decrease, so the population increases (Okita, 2011). As countries progress to Stage Three, the industrialization and urbanization leads to better living conditions, but fewer children, so the birth rates decline with the death rates and the population growth becomes slower (Komine & Kabe, 2009). Most modern developed nations are at Stage Four, which occurs within a fully industrialized and developed nation that has low birth and death rates as well as decreased population growth that makes the population stationary (Phillips, 2000). Nations such as Japan are speculated to be in a new stage considered as Stage Five, where the birth rate has dropped below the death rate, causing the population to decrease, as is the case in similar countries such as Germany and Austria (Angeles, 2010).

Main Body

Population Structure of Japan

Japan is an island country in the North Pacific Ocean off the east coast of mainland Asia across from Russia, Korea, and China made up of four large islands and thousands of smaller ones. The four main islands are Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku, with a population of about 128 million. The Japanese call their country Nippon (or Nihon), which means Source of the Sun. Japan is from the Italian name Zipangu, given to the country by Marco Polo (Allison, 2010). So much of the country is covered by mountains and hills that ninety percent of the population lives on the narrow plains of land along the coasts, which is about twenty percent of Japan’s land mass. The Tokyo metropolitan region is the most populous urban region in the world.

About two thirds of Japanese people live in the three main urban areas: Tokyo, which includes Kawasaki and Yokohama, Osaka, and Nagoya (Allison, 2010). These cities are testaments to the prosperity of Japan and the high standard of living enjoyed by the city’s occupants. Modern high-rise apartments and traditional Japanese housing can both be found in these cities, despite Japan having the most expensive land prices in the world (Allison, 2010). In traditional homes, the rooms are separated by sliding, paper screens, the floors are covered with straw mats called tatami, and people sit on cushions and sleep on padded quilts called futons. Although crime and poverty are not major problems, overcrowding, air and water pollution are all major problems of these huge cities (Allison, 2010).

As one of the leading countries in today’s world economy, Japan consumes significant resources, has a largest employment population, is the largest importers/exporter of goods, and has been financially stable for a significant period of time (Serrano, 2010). Information gathered from several sources was used to determine the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), GDP growth rate, market structure, and the size of the labor force (Serrano, 2010). The GDP is the value of all goods and services produced in a country during a given period (Serrano, 2010). Based on this information, Japan has the world’s second largest economy with a 2008 estimated GDP of $4.487 trillion, with 72.1 % from the service sector, 26.4% from the industrial sector, and 1.4% from the agricultural sector, and an annual GDP growth rate of about 0.7 % (CIA World Fact Book, 2012). Additionally, 66.15 million Japanese were employed in 2008 and only 4.2 % of the population was unemployed (CIA World Fact Book, 2012).

Existence of Native Tribes Globally

The term ‘Indigenous Peoples’ has been claimed by or applied to individuals who regard themselves as the offspring of the pre-colonial natives of the Americas, New Zealand and the circumpolar Arctic, Australia, including a wide variety of groups living in the Amazon, Aboriginal Australians, Native Americans in the USA, the Inuit of the Arctic, and the New Zealand Maoris (UN, n.d.). Additionally, in numerous Asian and African countries, ostracized minority ethnic groups, often called tribal populations, have a cultures diverse from the nationwide model and have historically occupied certain regions also define themselves as Indigenous Peoples, which includes the hill tribes in Thailand and the Ainu in Japan (UN, n.d.). Indigenous Peoples have come to be accepted over the past few years as a distinctive social and cultural group under international law and in some nations’ general law (Wickeri & Kalhan, 2010). The degree of recognition of Indigenous Peoples varies widely across different countries (Wickeri & Kalhan, 2010). In countries such as Australia, Canada, most Latin American countries, and the USA, Indigenous Peoples are officially recognized in law (Scheinin, 2004).

However, in some countries, only certain groups are acknowledged as ‘indigenous’ although other castes might assert that description, and in other countries indigenous groups are not formally accepted at all (Kugelmann, 2007). Although disparity exists within different national contexts, the adoption of the UN Declaration and the ILO Convention on Indigenous Peoples proposes an emerging trend toward greater respect of indigenous rights (IACHR, 2009). The term ‘Indigenous Peoples’ has evolved to include a widening assortment of individuals and cultures, and this diversity has contributed to the confusion regarding establishing an internationally recognized legal definition of ‘Indigenous Peoples’ (IITCHRCB, 2008).   The UN estimates that there are more than 370 million Indigenous Peoples in approximately 70 countries worldwide today (UN, n.d.). However, apart from their variances, Indigenous Peoples are considered to have many similarities between their historic experiences, grievances, organisational positions within their respective nation-states, interests, and aspirations. Nonetheless, there remains no precise definition of Indigenous Peoples in international law, with the prevalent notion regarding such a definition being that it is not necessary in order to protect their human rights (Kugelmann, 2007).

The Japanese are descended from migrants from other parts of Asia that came from the northeastern part of the continent, passing through the Korean peninsula. Japan’s population consists mainly of ethnic Japanese, with a minority populace consisting of Koreans, Chinese, Brazilians, and Ainu, an indigenous Japanese subculture (Allison, 2010). About two percent of Japan’s population consists of a group of Japanese known as the Burakumin, which come from villages traditionally associated with tasks such as the slaughter of cattle, execution of criminals, and the tanning of leather, occupations considered unclean according to Japanese religious traditions (Allison, 2010). These natives live in segregated slums or special villages (Allison, 2010). Farm families in rural areas make up the remaining one third of the Japanese population.

About 15% of farm households live off the income generated by their farming alone (Allison, 2010). Many farm workers have taken additional jobs, maintaining average incomes slightly higher than the urban workers. However, rural populations are declining as the children of farmers leave the countryside to work in Japan’s cities (Allison, 2010). Society imposes strong expectations on Japanese women and men, expecting women to marry in their mid-twenties, become a mother, and stay home attending to her husband’s needs and raising children. Men are expected to be the sole wage earners and support their families. To promote this, many employers provide male workers with a family allowance. Although this is widely accepted by Japanese men, most Japanese women do hold jobs at some point in their lives and some are reluctant to give up their jobs in their twenties to marry and start families, opting to keep working into their late twenties or thirties before starting families. However, female employees are not paid the same wages as males, receive fewer benefits, any have no job security (Allison, 2010).

Japan Ageing Population & the 5 Stages of Demographic Transition

The diminishing size of Japan’s youthful population demonstrates that this nation has surpassed the first four stages of the demographic transition model. Having had a stable economy for many years, Japan perfected stage four with the imposed birth regimes demarcating that couples should only have one child and have paid the price with the declining youth populace, as reflected in the inverted pyramid illustrated in Figure 1. This has placed Japan in the next and largely unanticipated stage of development that theorists are calling the fifth stage of the demographic transition model (Phillips, 2000). Countries of the developed world have primarily constructed models that encourage two income families and the traditional model of the female remaining at home to parent numerous children is not a common feature of Japanese society as it once was. Theorists speculate that the success of Stage Four has facilitated the complacency responsible for the Stage Five construct. It is additionally thought that the progressive states of development in many nations has eliminated the existence of Stage One, which leaves the Stage Five construct to replace the previous Stage Four in the model as each phase is elevated with the elimination of Stage One. Despite the incongruences of the Stage Five classification within the demographic theoretical model, the consensus is that the three main indicators of Stage Five include a low birth rate, a low death rate and a slow decrease of the total population with little to no increase (Morgan, 2013).

Japanese Tribes & the new Stages of the Transition Model

Having a long history of social and political stability, the Japanese maintained a Tokugawa government successfully for several centuries, but, the government’s poor financial situation led to riots and extreme unrest among the farm population. Regular natural disasters and famine led to the breakdown of the social hierarchy. Corruption, incompetence and a decline of morals led to further problems within the government (Allison, 2010). At the end of the 18th century, pressure for Japan to establish external trade routes began to build, allowing Commodore Perry to bully the Tokugawa government into opening a limited number of ports for international trade in 1853 and 1854 (Allison, 2010). As a result of these instabilities, Japan was still in Stage Four, where the birth and death rates were fluctuating as in Stage One, but at a much lower level such that the birth rates were as many as 10 per 1,000 and the death rates are the same (Phillips, 2000). Despite the political turbulence of the era, the total population remained stable and high, but there was less of a desire to construct large families due to the financial obligations of children and many couples preferred to enjoy the luxuries of life, such as holidays and cars (Okita, 2011). This kept the birth rate low and the death rate remained low due to improved healthcare.

Beginning in 1867, during the reign of Emperor Meiji, Japan underwent an intense period of Westernization in an attempt to regain independence from European and American rule (Allison, 2010). The emperor aimed to make Japan a democratic state with equality among its people, allow freedom of religion, and eliminate the boundaries between the social classes (Allison, 2010). The agrarian economy was transformed into an industrial one and Japanese scholars were sent abroad to study Western science and languages, while foreign experts were allowed to teach in Japan. Large governmental investments were made to improve transportation and communication networks. The currency system was reformed in the 1880’s due to the financial crisis caused by the large governmental reformation expenditures, which prompted the establishment of the Bank of Japan. The rapid growth of the textile industry kept it the largest Japanese industry until WW2 (Allison, 2010). The transition of power to Emperor Taisho in 1912 shifted political power from oligarchic to the parliament and democratic parties. This, along with the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and 1929’s worldwide depression considerably weakened Japan’s economy, allowing the military to establish significant control over the government in the 1930’s (Allison, 2010). Japan’s alliance with Germany and Italy put them at odds with the United States and the country was devastated as a result of WW2 (Allison, 2010). The economy did not recover until after the Korean War, however, the oil shortage in 1973 upset the Japanese economy, which was heavily dependent on oil (Allison, 2010). This facilitated the shift to high technology industries, transforming the Japanese economy into one of the largest in the world today. Japan’s main export goods are cars, electronic devices and computers and their main imports are textiles and raw materials such as oil, foodstuffs and wood (History of Japan, 2010).

The exponential expansion of the Japanese economy without concurrent growth in population has left the populace in the new construct of Stage Five, with a birth rate of 7 per1,000, and a death rate remaining at 10 per 1,000 (Coulmas, 2007). As death rate exceeds the birth rate, the total population is beginning to decrease for the first time. The recent economic crisis has further exacerbated the condition of couples not having any children while the number of elderly people is continuing to increase (Angeles, 2010). Furthering the decision to forgo children is the fact that many adults in their reproductive prime have to care for elderly relatives and simply do not have time to raise a family, contributing to the decrease in birth rates. However, the death rate has continued to remain stable as the elderly remain to be cared for.

Analysis of the Sixth Stage

Many theorists surmise that speculation of a Stage Six of the demographic transition model is due to the surplus of nations with low demographics of young people and inordinately high populaces of individuals over the age of 65 (Morgan, 2013). However, others indicate that the demise of the first stage due to the growth and development of many unindustrialized nations has shifted the model forward. Essentially, many feel that Stage Two has now become Stage One; Stage Three is now Stage Two; Stage Four has shifted to Stage Three; and the newly developed Stage Five is actually stage Four. In this scenario, the theorized extension to Stage Six is not a plausible occurrence. Nonetheless, some theorists speculate that the addition of the fifth stage can support the potential formation of a Stage Six since the conditions of concern in nations such as Japan will eventually perpetuate such a standard. The Stage Six model is characterized by the decreasing birth rate and a lack of increase in the working aged population since the 1950’s, as in Japan, will cause the decline in both the children and working aged cohorts and a sharp increase in the over 65 year old group. Overall, the existence of Stage Six is based on whether the original Stage One is perpetuated in the model or if it is phased out to maintain the original four stage model, at which point, Stage Six would replace Stage Five.


Although the world population continues to grow as a whole, the populace of Japan is not increasing despite the country’s economic affluence and, is in fact declining. The projection that the Japanese population will decrease to 90 million shows a staggering 29.69% population drop between now and 2055. Despite efforts to rectify the damage done by reproductive restrictions, many youth are still not motivated to forgo careers in favor of the immediate family. Although new technological advances have made it possible for women to conceive children even after they have reached menopause, in modern Asia, many women work outside the home before they are married and often after their children leave home. Asian families typically have strong kinship ties, but familial customs are reflective of their son bias, with many ceremonies geared towards celebrating the sons (Edmonds & Smith, 2010). The females are not made to feel part of the family unit, since they will eventually marry out and become part of their husband’s family. Conversely, the women that marry into the family are considered ‘outsiders’, and it is very difficult for them to earn acceptance from their new family, thus it is very easy for a female to feel nonexistent in this social structure (Spector, 2009).





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