July 6, 2010


Singapore's Demographic Winter (Joel Kotkin, 07.06.10, Forbes)

Over the past half century arguably no place on earth has progressed more than the tiny island state of Singapore. A once impoverished, tropical powder keg packed into 268 square miles at the foot of the Malay Peninsula, the Mandarin-led republic has ascended from its difficult founding in 1965 to one of the richest economies on the planet. Today, in terms of purchasing power, its per capita income stands higher than most European countries' or Japan's and is roughly equal to that of the U.S.

But a catastrophic plunge in the country's birthrate--a problem plaguing many of the world's affluent economies--could undermine Singapore's success. In 1965 Singapore's leaders feared it could not survive an unsustainable fertility rate above 3.5 and embarked on a campaign encouraging citizens to have smaller families. Today the country's fertility rate--the number of children per female--has sunk to roughly 1.2 , a rate lower than all but a handful of countries and well below replacement level.

This pattern poses a threat to the republic's continued progress over the coming decades. The dependency ratio between retired persons and those 15 to 64--far lower than Europe, America or Japan in the 1970s--will reach the unsustainable levels of places like Japan, Germany and Italy by 2030. By then there could well be more people over 65 than under 15.

Was talking to a friend who specializes in Asia at our neighborhood 4th of July barbeque. She'd been invited to a big do by a Japan/America foundation that is worried no one studies Japan anymore nor takes it seriously. So they had a series of speakers explain why you should be studying them but then concluded with a guy who presented the demographic data and basically told them that Japan was ceasing to exist. Which leads to the obvious question: why should you study Japan as if it were a significant nation?

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 6, 2010 5:39 PM
blog comments powered by Disqus