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Shrinking Societies: The Other Population Crisis

Business Week,  Aug 12, 2010
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A Japanese woman's role in society is to give birth, and "all we can do is ask them to do their best per head," said Hakuo Yanagisawa, Japan's former health minister. His remark, as reported by Bloomberg in 2007, drew criticism for being sexist, but it touches on one of Japan's most pressing issues: its rapidly aging and shrinking population.

Japan is expected to see its population contract by one-fourth to 95.2 million by 2050, according to the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington-based research group, making it the fastest-shrinking country in the world.Former Eastern Bloc nations Ukraine and Georgia came in second and third, respectively, in a ranking of more than 200 countries by based on the Population Reference Bureau's 2010 World Population Data Sheet.

These countries defy the global trend—but that doesn't mean they'll be spared problems of their own. The world population is expected to expand by 37 percent to 9.5 billion in 2050, according to the report, but growth will not be evenly distributed. Developing countries will grow the most, with the population in Africa expected to double.

Meanwhile, other regions will shrink as the boomer generation ages, people have fewer children, and workers leave for opportunities abroad. The most widespread decline is projected in Eastern Europe, where birthrates have declined since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The number of people in every country in the region, except the Czech Republic, is forecast to contract. By 2050 the region will have lost 13.6 percent of its population, according to data from the Population Reference Bureau.

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