December 12, 2010 ( – The socially liberal Economist magazine is admitting that the Japanese economy is in deep trouble due to low fertility rates and an aging population, which threaten to bankrupt the social security system and lead to perpetual economic stagnation.

In a special section devoted to Japan appearing in the November 20-27 edition, the Economist laments that “Japan is heading into a demographic vortex. It is the fastest-aging society on Earth and the first big country in history to have started shrinking rapidly from natural causes.”

However, the causes that the Economist calls “natural” include artificial birth control and abortion, coupled with a tendency to marry later or not at all.  As a result of falling birth rates and longer life expectancy, Japan’s “median age (44) and life expectancy (83) are among the highest and its birth rate (1.4 per woman) is among the lowest anywhere. In the next 40 years its population, currently 127m, is expected to fall by 38m. By 2050 four out of ten Japanese will be over 65.”

Japan’s working-age population has already been falling for years, the Economist says. “In 1995, just before the economy started to lose steam, the working age population hit its high point, at 87m. Since then it has fallen sharply. If current trends continue, in 20 years time it will have dropped by 20m, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. By 2050 it will have fallen below 50m, forming an almost perfect bell curve in one century. Among rich nations, only Germany will suffer a similar fall.”

The Japanese economy has been stagnating for a decade and a half, but if these demographic trends continue, “the two ‘lost decades’ of economic stagnation in Japan since 1990 may turn out not to be an aberration,” the Economist writes. The economy, it says, is now on “the down escalator.”

The effects of Japan’s imploding population are not only felt in per-capita productivity, but also the social security system, which is threatened by a growing imbalance between workers and retirees.

“When public pensions were introduced in the 1960s there were 11 workers for every pensioner,” says the Economist. “Now there are 2.6, with an OECD average of four. In a sign of growing disillusionment with the pension system, almost 40% of the self-employed fail to pay contributions.”

The foundations for Japan’s embrace of contraception and abortion was laid by Margaret Sanger, the founder of the international birth control movement, and the Japanese socialist Shidzue Kato. The two began to promote contraception in Japan in the 1920s, although such policies were recognized at the time as a threat to Japanese society and rejected.

Following the conquest of Japan by the United States, Kato and other socialists were elected to the Japanese Diet, and the government passed the 1948 Eugenic Protection Law, which permitted contraception and abortion. The abortion rate is currently estimated to be approximately 250,000 per year.