Nowadays, the demographic situation in many countries of the world is considered to be critical to the extent that often it is estimated that the continuous deterioration of the demographic situation may lead to a profound crisis affecting practically all spheres of human life. It should be pointed out that many developed countries have a similar trend to the gradual but stable decline of birth rates that inevitably affects the demographic situation in these countries. What is more important the similar trends have started to grow in developing countries which were traditionally characterized by the high level of birth rates. In this respect, Asian region was traditionally considered to be the most densely populated area of the world. This is why many people may presumably think that the low birth rate is not the problem of the region.
Moreover, the overpopulation resulting from the high level of the birth rate was considered the major demographic problem of the region. However, in actuality, the demographic situation in some countries of the region is really quite difficult and the reason is the low birth rates.
At the same time, the current low birth rates in such countries as Japan and Australia only proves the general global trend typical for well-developed countries.
These two countries are unquestionably the regional leaders but their birth rates remain dangerously low that poses a lot of problems and threatens to the future sustainable development of Japan and Australia. Moreover, being the regional leaders, Japan and Australia also indicate less developed countries of the Asian and Pacific region to their own future if their demographic policy remains unchanged. In such a situation, it is extremely important to carefully analyze the current situation in Japan and Australia, reveal the major causes of the low birth rates, define their effects and develop some recommendations that could possibly improve the current situation.
The current situation in Japan and Australia
Basically, the current demographic situation in Japan and Australia is similar though, the birth rate in Japan is lower than in Australia. To put it more precisely, the birth rate in Japan constitutes 1,38, while in Australia the birth rate reaches 1,7 (Castles 1999). Taking into consideration the significant gap in the birth rate between Japan and Australia, it is possible to presuppose that Australia has a better birth rate. However, in actuality, such a presupposition is only partially correct. In fact, neither Japanese nor Australian birth rate is good. In stark contrast, both Japan and Australia may be characterized as countries where the birth rate is critically low to the extent that it may threaten to the future demographic stability in these countries.
Nevertheless, the existing gap in the birth rate in Japanese and Australian women is still quite important since the situation in Japan is really worse compared to Australia, though the latter also cannot be characterized as a country, where the birth rate is close to the norm. In this respect, it should be said that the normal birth rate is 2,1 (Castles 1999). The normal birth rate actually implies that the natural reproduction of the population occurs smoothly without any serious leaps in the birth rate and, what is more important, this birth rate provides the society with a possibility to sustain the same level of the population naturally replacing people that grow older by younger generations. In other words, the birth rates which is at the level of 2,1 is sufficient for the natural reproduction of the population without deterioration of the demographic situation in the result of the growing number of older people compared to the decreasing number of births and young people.
Obviously, neither Japan nor Australia can have the sufficient level of birth rates since their birth rates are lower than 2,1. In general, the current birth rate in Japan may be characterized as low and this country is defined by specialists as the country with a low level of fertility (see Box 1). As for Australia due to the higher birth rate this country is defined as a country with a moderate level of fertility (Box 1) though, as it has already been mentioned above, even this level is insufficient for the normal reproduction of the population of the country. Consequently, speaking about the current situation in Japan and Australia, it is necessary to underline that both countries have the low birth rate, though this is a typical trend to other developed countries of the world. This is why it is possible to estimate that Japan and Australia just face the same problem of the low fertility as other developed countries.
At the same time, it should be said that both countries also have another trend common to developed countries. What is meant here is the fact that both Japanese and Australian women decide to bear their first child at the older age compared to the previous generations. In this respect, it should be said that just a few decades ago a considerable part of Japanese and Australian women could bear their first child at the age 20 and, as a rule, the first child was born when women were at their early 20-s. In stark contrast, nowadays, both Japanese and Australian women prefer to delay their first pregnancy at their late 20-s or even early 30-s and this is also the trend typical to many developed countries (Judy 1998).
Also, it is worthy of mention that the aboriginal population of Australia is traditionally characterized by the higher birth rate compared to the rest of the population of the country and, to a significant extent, the medium fertility rate of Australia is determined by the aboriginal population of the country. As for Japan, the country cannot rely on such a part of the population which has the higher birth rate compared to the rest of the population since Japan is mono-ethnic country where Japanese constitute the overwhelming majority of the population, while Australian population is more ethnically diverse which results in different cultural traditions and often contribute to the higher birth rate.
Finally, on analyzing the current situation, it should be said that the average amount of children in Australian and Japanese families does not exceed two. To put it more precisely, in Australia there are 22% of families which have one child and 36% of families which have two children, while the share of families having over five children does not exceed 2 %. The similar situation is in Japan where the single child families constitute about 26%, while the families having two children hardly exceed 30% (Judy 1998). Thus, the birth rate in the majority of Japanese and Australian families is lower than the norm, which, as it has been said above, constitutes 2,1 children per family.
Causes of the low fertility rate in Japan and Australia
Naturally, the low birth rates in Japan and Australia are basically determined by similar factors since both countries have chosen the similar way of development and are characterized as the highly developed countries. To a significant extent their socio-economic system is similar, or at least the main principles of its functioning are similar. As a result, both countries have the similar trends in their birth rates growth. On the other hand, Australia and |Japan have a different cultural background that inevitably affects the demographic situation in the countries at large and the birth rate in particular.
Speaking about the causes of the low fertility rate in Japan and Australia, it should be said that it is a kind of ‘payment’ for the high level of the socio-economic development of both countries or, to put it more precisely, it is the consequences of such a development. In this respect, it is necessary to underline that Japan and Australia are the countries with the open market economy where market relations define practically all spheres of life. To a significant extent, the open market economy made Japan and Australia the regional leaders but, on the other hand, it led the countries to the serious demographic problem resulting from the low birth rate.
In order to fully understand the impact of socio-economic factors on the fertility rate, it is necessary to point out that, in actuality, the birth of a child is quite ‘expansive’. In fact, the birth itself is not the major reason that prevents many families in Australia and Japan from having two and more children. What really prevents them from carrying several children is the necessity to provide them in their further life. What is meant here is the fact that families have to take into consideration the costs of the upbringing and educating of their children. To put it more precisely, along with the essential expenditures on a child, Japanese and Australian parents have to take into account the necessity of educating their children. As a result, it turns out that the upbringing and educating of one child is quite costly and just a few families can really afford the upbringing of several children. In other words, the majority of Japanese and Australian families cannot financially afford more than two children.
However, it is necessary to underline that often the unwillingness of parents to have a second or third child in the family is determined by the high standards of life in Japan and Australia. Being highly developed countries, Japan and Australia are characterized by high standards of life which are unattainable for the majority of Asian countries situated in the region. Naturally, high standards of life imply the high level of costs of the life in these countries. For instance, the largest Japanese cities, such as Tokyo are traditionally listed among the most expansive cities in the world since the cost of life there is extremely high (Castles 1999). As a result, in order to preserve the high social standards, many Japanese and Australian families prefer to have one or two children and not more. Otherwise, they could get marginalized since two parents could hardly afford the upbringing and educating of several children and, as a rule, they need state support.
Furthermore, another cause of the low birth rate is also determined by the high level of the development of both countries, this cause is education. Nowadays, due to the growing need in well-educated specialists and due to the growing feminist movements, Japanese and Australian women pay a lot of attention to their education and further career growth. As a result, as they receive their education they are unwilling to bear children at their early 20-s while the further professional career often forces them to delay their first pregnancy until their late 20-s – early 30-s (Castles 1999). As a result, Japanese and Australian women cannot physically bear more than one or two children since their reproductive age is naturally limited and they simply do not have time to carry several children, even if they can afford them financially.
Nevertheless, despite all these similarities between Japan and Australia that lead to the low birth rate, there is still the difference in cultural background and traditions of the two countries which, to a significant extent, determine the gap in birth rates in Japanese and Australian women. To put it more precisely, the aboriginal population and immigrants provide a substantial part of the birth rate in Australia, while Japanese population is homogeneous and there is no ethnic group characterized by the high birth rate. As a result, Australia has a medium birth rate, while Japan has a low birth rate.
Effects of the low fertility rate
Obviously, the low fertility rate in Japan and Australia are equally dangerous and may and do have similar effects on both countries. It proves beyond a doubt that the low birth rate is extremely dangerous not only for the demographic stability in the countries but also to their further socio-economic development. To put it more precisely, the low birth rate primarily threatens to the national health at large. What is meant here is the fact that both Australian and Japanese populations are growing older and gradually this will lead to dying both nations out. In other words, in the result of the low birth rate, the number of Japanese and Australian population will gradually decline since the natural reproduction is insufficient to cover the gap between the number of deaths and births. Moreover, the reproductive age of Japanese and Australian women decreases since they need to get the education and make a professional career. At the same time, the ‘quality’ of reproduction also decreases since, as Japanese and Australian women bear their first child at their 30-s that increases the risk of complications during the pregnancy and, what is more, often they are physically unable to bear one more child.
It is also worthy of mention that, unlike Japan where the population is ethnically homogeneous, the population of Australia is more diverse and the higher birth rates of immigrant population and aborigines may change considerably the ethnic grouping of the nation.
However, the low birth rate is probably the most dangerous for the future socio-economic development of Japan and Australia. It is not a secret that the low birth rate is a great threat to the labor market of any country and Japan and Australia and not exceptions. In this respect, it should be said that on comparing the present labor force rates in Japan and Australia it is possible to reveal the extent to which the low birth rate may be dangerous to the labor market. To put it more precisely, nowadays, the current labor force participation rates at age of 15-19 and 20-24 varies considerably in Australia and Japan respectively (Table 2): 58% for males and 58% for females (at age of 15-19) and 87% for males and 88% for females (at age of 20-24) in Australia and 18% for males and 16% for females (at age of 15-19) and 74% for both genders in Japan (Judy 1998).
In such a way, Japan which has a lower birth rate compared to Australia has a less share of the working population and Australia will have the same trend if its birth rate will keep declining. As a result, the population of both countries grows older that means the growing number of people which are unable to lead an active professional life and are retired while the number of young people which are supposed to be the most economically active part of the population decreases. Consequently, the labor force which creates the national health gradually decreases proportionally to the decrease in the birth rate. This is why Japan is currently in the worse position compared to Australia which position is also far from perfect.
Conclusion and recommendations
Thus, it is possible to conclude that at the present moment both Japan and Australia are characterized by the low birth rate, which is determined by the numerous socio-economic and cultural factors, including the growing need in education, professional career, a high cost of living, etc. At the same time, the difference in birth rates in Japan and Australia is basically determined by cultural factors since for some ethnic groups of Australia it is a norm to have several children, while Japanese population is homogenous and its traditions force people to take care not only about younger but also older generations that makes it practically impossible to have more than two children. Obviously, the low birth rate can have disastrous effects on the national health and economy as the two nations grow older and the decreasing labor forces will be simply unable to afford the normal development of the entire nation.
In such a situation, it is possible to recommend focusing on the increasing of birth rates in both countries. Obviously, financial aid and support of families with children is not sufficient, though it is quite significant in both Japan and Australia. In addition, it is necessary to develop national programs, both educational and financial, to stimulate Japanese and Australian women to bear more than two children. At the same time, it will be necessary to change the existing legislation in order to make it possible for women to successfully combine motherhood and their education and professional career. This means that it is necessary to protect them from losing their workplace or job opportunities after the birth of a child and stimulate employees to employ women regardless the fact whether they have children or not.
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