The last one switches the lights

In 500 years, all Japanese will be called Sato.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
11 May 2024 Saturday 22:27
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The last one switches the lights

In 500 years, all Japanese will be called Sato. This is predicted by a study carried out in Japan by economist Hiroshi Yoshida, professor at the Research Center for the Economy and Society of Aging, at Tokoku University, in Sendai. Sato is today the most common surname in Japan – something like García in Spain – and, according to this projection, 100% of the population may end up carrying it in the year 2531. The conclusion, somewhat provocative, is intended to be an argument against the Japanese legal tradition – which also exists in European countries, such as France – that families can only transmit one surname to their children and that this is generally that of the father. That all Japanese end up having the same name “will not only be inconvenient, but will also undermine individual dignity,” Yoshida told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

The issue, however, goes beyond the threat – not minor – to individual identity. The example illustrates the ravages of population aging, which in Japan has become the number one national problem. With 125 million inhabitants, the country of the Rising Sun has the oldest population on the planet, with an average age of almost 50 years, the result of decades of dragging fertility rates among the lowest in the world (currently, 1.3 children per woman, according to World Bank data, far from the 2.1 that guarantees generational replacement)

Low salaries and job insecurity, high housing prices and delayed motherhood – causes that we can also observe in other developed societies – explain this phenomenon. Without, in this case, foreign immigration – in a country strongly averse to anything foreign – having been able to act as a counterweight. Something that can start to change.

As a result, Japan is on track to suffer a severe demographic decline. According to projections by the governmental Population and Social Security Research Institute (IPSS), in 2070 the country will have lost 30% of its population and 40% of its inhabitants will be over 65 years old. Which raises serious problems of labor force shortage – which will reduce its economic strength – and the viability of health and social services that will be more stressed than ever. Japan has the unfortunate privilege of being a pioneer country in this field: the decline in the birth rate began there in the 1970s. But the problem affects the entire world.

The threat of demographic loss is especially evident in Asia, mainly in the Far East. It's not just Japan. The problem, although later, has also begun to hit countries like South Korea hard, which has the lowest fertility rate in the world (0.7) – what its president, Yoon Suk Yeol, described this week “national emergency”–; Taiwan (1.1) and China (1.2), victim of decades of the strict one-child policy. Beijing estimates that by 2035, in the absence of children, it will have 1.9 million teachers left...

For its part, India, today the most populous country in the world with 1,428 million inhabitants, is on the knife's edge (index 2), although the decline in fertility is beginning to be pronounced in certain regions.

After having skyrocketed by 80% between 1950 and 1980, Asia's population is going to begin to fall sharply. Which, as the American economist Nicholas Eberstadt emphasizes, will have not only internal consequences, but also geopolitical ones. “This decline will benefit the United States, to the extent that it will weaken its rival,” he wrote in Foreign Affairs, where he emphasizes that China will have enormous difficulties in displacing the United States from first place as a world power.

Certainly, the United States is demographically better off, largely thanks to immigration. But it also suffers the same process of declining birth rates (1.7). The same as Latin America as a whole.

And what to say about Europe! If we start from the East, Russia (1.5), the country with the most territory in the world, will not soon know how to fill it. Within the EU, Italy (1.3) and Spain (1.2) approach Asian fertility levels, but the problem is general. In Germany it is at 1.6 and in France – once a champion of the birth rate – it has fallen to 1.8, which recently led President Emmanuel Macron to call for “demographic rearmament”.

Everything indicates that such efforts will be in vain and that humanity will have to face very important social transformations in the coming decades. The latest demographic studies indicate that this century there will be a general depopulation of the Earth. The world population will reach its peak – about 10 billion people – between the years 2060 and 2080 and will begin to decline from there. Africa, the most dynamic continent in this field, will be the one that will resist the most. But only for a while. A study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), published in April in The Lancet, estimates that in 2100 only six countries will have a sufficient fertility rate: Chad, Niger, Samoa, Somalia, Tajikistan and Tonga. Until then, the now reviled African immigration can become a precious manna.

“These trends will completely reconfigure the global economy and the international balance of power and will require a reorganization of societies,” says Dr. Natalia V. Bhattacharjee, co-author of the study, which predicts the emergence of “fierce competition” to attract immigrants who sustain economic growth (the Bank of Spain estimates that our country will need 24 million immigrants in the next thirty years). Meanwhile, the European Union, encouraged by the apocalyptic sermons of the extreme right, only thinks about establishing itself as an impregnable fortress.