Page last updated at 03:46 UTC, Thursday, 07 November 2019 PH
The greatest challenge to the developed world, especially in Europe and Northeast Asia, is the rapid ageing of the population and the scarcity of young manpower to cater to the needs of the senior citizens who are increasingly living up to ripe old ages. Take Japan, for example. According to a report by the United Nations, by 2050, 36.4 percent of the Japanese population will be 65 years of age and above. This will be followed by South Korea with 35.3 percent of the population 65 years or above. Then European and North American countries will come next: France with 26.7 percent, Germany with 30.7 percent; USA with 22.1 percent and even China with 26.3 percent in 2015. Against this mass shift of people to the old age group in the developed nations, the growing populations of India and the Philippines, among a few others, should be considered a healthy and constructive hub to mitigate the human capital shortage, instead of a cause for concern. Given the global shortage of the working population owing to ageing people, the so-called population explosion of India should be read as a bonanza, instead of a source of paranoia. India (and the Philippines) can be the future hub for human capital to service the developed nations. The working populations of India and the Philippines in the coming three to four decades will provide the biggest pool for young and middle age population (age group of 15 to 59) who are eligible to be in the labor force. India’s fertility rate of 2.4 births per fertile woman is still above the replacement rate at 2.1 children while that of the Philippines is even at a higher 3.1 children.
In a Bloomberg release (June 29,2019), it was reported that the rural areas of Japan are bearing the burden of Japan’s ageing, shrinking population. Half the country’s municipalities are expected to disappear by 2040. Because baby-boomers (those born after the Second World War) are starting to die off, the depopulation of rural areas is expected to spike. In 2014, it was predicted that 896 of Japan’s 1,700 municipalities would be extinct by 2014. A recent revision of this forecast has increased the number to 929 municipalities. In the five years to 2016, by the government’s count, 190 places disappeared from the map. Villages and towns across Japan have been shrinking for decades because of migration to the big cities. Since 2011, the national population has been falling, too. In 2018, it shrank by 450,000. The two trends are emptying rural areas; whereas Japan as a whole is projected to lose 16% of its population between 2015 and 2045, the population of Aomori prefecture in the north easternmost tip of Honshu, Japan’s main island, will plunge 37 percent, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security (NIPSSR), a think tank in Tokyo.
A recent article in the Financial Times revealed that South Korea’s demographic crisis has grown worse than that of Japan. Its birth rate, already the lowest in the world, has fallen to a new low due to factors such as the high cost of private education despite various government initiatives to encourage more births. The country’s fertility rate fell to 0.98 baby per fertile woman. It was already the lowest at 1.05 in 2017 among members of the OECD—far lower than Israel, which was the highest in the organization with 3.11, the U.S. at 1.77 and Japan’s 1.43. Thanks to its falling birth rate, Asia’s fourth-largest economy is expected to grow older more quickly over the next four decades than any other country, including Japan and China. Despite vigorous efforts of the South Korean government to reverse the falling birth rate, the number of babies being born has continued to fall, plunging 8.7 percent in 2018, following declines of 11.9 percent and 9.3 percent in the preceding two years. Many Koreans are reluctant to have more than one child because of the cost of private education—considered essential to the education-obsessed country.
Finally, the case of China is also quite revealing. After the introduction of China’s universal two-child policy that took the place of its one-child policy that was enforced for decades, there resulted an extra 5.4 million births. This two-child policy was announced in 2015 to reverse the nation’s stagnant population growth, ageing population and shrinking workforce. The policy targeted some 90 million women of reproductive age who already had a child, and now would be allowed to have a second child. A team of researchers based in China and the U.S. set out to measure changes in births and health-related birth characteristics associated with the policy change. The researchers estimate an additional 5.4 million births as a result of the new policy during the first 18 months that it was in effect. However, the researchers point out that many of the changes associated with the new policy, including the increase in births, appeared to diminish at the end of the study period, raising questions doubt whether the policy’s effects will be sustained. The Science Daily expressed the general disappointment with the results: “China’s two-child policy has led to 5.4 million extra births: Births have increased, but not as much as some policy makers had hoped.” This study shows how difficult it is to reverse an anti-birth mentality once it is ingrained in the female population who for decades were led to believe that being pregnant is an obstacle to their integral human development.
Given all these findings in both Southeast and Northeast Asia, the Philippines should follow a strategy of orienting its human resources not only to first and foremost address our own needs as a growing economy moving towards a high middle-income country but also, like India, to consider our role in helping the ageing nations in the Asia Pacific region as well as in Western Europe to meet their manpower needs. Our young population who have the willingness to spend at least part of their working years outside of the Philippines should especially consider such professional fields as medicine, nursing, caregiving, physical therapy, engineering, architecture, tourism, education (especially the teaching of English), entertainment and the arts (in which Filipinos have a competitive advantage). The centennials (those born in the third millennium) should also exert sufficient effort to learn such other foreign languages as Mandarin, Japanese, Korean and Bahasa that are the predominant languages in the Asia Pacific region. As I have written often in the past, even if the Philippines succeeds in substantially lowering our poverty incidence close to zero (like Malaysia), there will still be millions of our young people opting to live abroad during part of their working life time because they (like the Indians) will play a major role in helping the ageing populations around the developed world cope with the shortage of human resources. Let us be thankful for the natural inclination of the Filipino family to have larger family sizes than are normal in the developed countries. For comments, my email address is email@example.com.