Elon Musk has warned that Japan will ‘cease to exist’ unless it tackles its declining birth rate, sparking calls for the country to allow more immigration and improve its work-life balance and privacy.
“At the risk of stating the obvious, unless something changes so that the birth rate exceeds the death rate, Japan will eventually cease to exist. It would be a great loss to the world,” said the chief executive of Tesla, which recently bought Twitter for $44bn (£36bn). said in a post on Sunday.
Musk, who had previously worried about the world’s population slump, was reacting to government data showing Japan’s population fell by a record 644,000 last year – the 11th consecutive year of decline.
Some social media users pointed out that Japan was not the only developed economy experiencing long-term population decline, but others used Musk’s tweet to criticize successive governments’ half-hearted attempts to raise the rate. birth rate in the world’s third largest economy.
Japan’s population peaked in 2008 and fell to around 125 million last year, despite government warnings about the effect on economic growth and occasional campaigns to encourage couples to have larger families.
Some Japanese pundits took Musk to task for his tweet.
“What’s even the point of tweeting that?” wrote Tobias Harris, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “The concerns surrounding Japan’s demographic future are not that ‘Japan will eventually cease to exist’ but rather the deep social dislocations occurring as a result of the decline to a lower population level.”
Others have called on the Japanese government to further relax the country’s strict immigration rules, although plans to admit up to half a million blue-collar workers by 2025 to deal with severe shortages of labor have been thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic.
There have also been calls to address the low birth rate, including making it easier for women to return to work after having children.
“They keep saying the birth rate is going down, but given that the government is not taking thorough action to deal with it, what can we say?” said one Twitter user. “Everything they say and do is contradictory.
“In this environment, who’s going to say ‘Okay, let’s have a baby’? I despair for Japan.
Experts attribute Japan’s low birth rate to several factors, including the high financial cost of raising children, lack of childcare, and notoriously long working hours.
The country’s population is also one of the oldest in the world, with a record nearly 29% of the population aged 65 and over, according to government data.