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How Japan’s Aging Population Impacts National Defense

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In 2015, Japan’s census confirmed that its population had decreased for the first time since the government began counting in 1920. The population decline will obviously have severe economic consequences as fewer workers support a benefits system for the growing number of retirees. But there are concerns for national security too: Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) may face a serious recruitment problem.

The number of 18- to 26-year-olds – the ages eligible for SDF recruitment – has been falling since 1994. In 2015, there were 11 million in this age group, down about 40 percent from 1994, according to the Ministry of Defense’s annual white paper in 2016. This shrinking pool is the biggest pressure on the SDF’s staffing efforts. A review of the white papers over the past three decades shows that though numbers of applicants and recruits have fluctuated over the years, the staffing rate — the actual number of personnel compared to the authorized level — has been consistently low. The total staffing rate has hovered between 85-95 percent. Non-career personnel, who serve a two- or three-year fixed term, have had much lower staffing rates, in the 60-80 percent range, with few exceptions. These rates suggest that recruiters have accepted long-term understaffing. But as the recruitment age bracket continues to dwindle, simply maintaining the current non-career staffing rate of 75 percent will be more difficult.

This article was originally published in The Diplomat on June 28, 2017. Read the full article here.

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