Darrow Miller and Friends

Turning Out the Lights in Japan: Negative Population Growth

photo by Shinichi Sugiyama (chez_sugi) from tokyo, japan – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0


A few years ago, after I finished a lecture in Tokyo a Japanese physician came up to me and announced,  “We are turning out the lights in Japan!”

I sensed what he meant but asked him to elaborate. “We are shutting down labor and delivery rooms in hospitals, doctors are no longer going into OBGYN and pediatric specialties. We are closing schools. Japanese are no longer having children. We are turning out the lights in Japan.”

Sadly, this is not only true of Japan. The same thing is happening in Europe. The difference? Europe admits immigrants, and the immigrants are having babies. Families of European extraction are not having children.

But as Eric Metaxas explains in a recent BreakPoint commentary, Japan is not receiving immigrants.

… in the United States, a relatively young country with lots of immigrants, the [“worker to retiree] ratio  is about 4.5 to 1. Japan’s is 2.6 to 1 and it’s projected to be 1.2 to 1 by 2050.

There are two ways you can increase the ratio: Have more kids and/or admit more immigrants. Japan, which values homogeneity, won’t do the latter and are not doing the former: The average Japanese woman gives birth to one child at around thirty, and stops.

Japan’s fiscal-demographic trap is not the result of some law of nature—it’s the product of culture. For a host of reasons, the Japanese placed having and rearing children near the bottom of their “to do” list.

Japan is only leading the way in this regard. Nineteen countries, including Germany and South Korea, have lower fertility rates than Japan. Singapore’s rate is forty percent lower than Japan’s.

Read Metaxas’ full article here.

About 20 countries have especially low birth rates. But not only are these countries nearing the end of the death spiral. as the graphic below depicts, 48 percent of the world’s people live in countries  that are beginning the death spiral of declining birth rates.

Japan not the only country in death spiral

It gets worse. The map’s data for the United States needs to be updated to reflect a very troubling reality: in the spring of 2013 America crossed the critical threshold and fell below the 2.1 “replacement level” birth rate. Regarding this development, Jonathan Last, author of the book What To Expect When No One Is Expecting, writes:

The latest numbers suggest that an amazingly high percentage of women today—18.8 percent—complete their childbearing years having had no children. Another 18.5 percent of women finish having had only one child. Together, that’s nearly 40 percent of Americans who go their entire lives having either one child or no children at all.

Last continues, “… we’re slowly bifurcating into a society where we have two classes of adults: parents and non-parents.” (For more on Jonathan Last’s insights see The Rise of Childless Americans.)

We are experiencing profound political division in the United States. That political division is rooted in culturally division. I would argue that the cultural divide is, roughly speaking, between the mentality of Judeo-Christian “heartland” and the Atheistic-Materialistic mentality of the coasts.  I would argue that this is the backdrop for the bifurcating of society Last observed. Those who consciously function from a Judeo-Christian framework, or live from a Christian memory, are continuing to form families and have children. Generally, those functioning from an Atheistic-Materialistic frame are not.

This is the case in the United States. What about the world at large? There, the divide is between those who are living in modern or postmodern cultures, on the one hand, and those from traditional cultures, on the other. Let’s face it: in the modern and postmodern worlds, being a mother is no longer cool! If this trend continues, more and more nations will be turning out the lights!

–          Darrow Miller

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Darrow is co-founder of the Disciple Nations Alliance and a featured author and teacher. For over 30 years, Darrow has been a popular conference speaker on topics that include Christianity and culture, apologetics, worldview, poverty, and the dignity of women. From 1981 to 2007 Darrow served with Food for the Hungry International (now FH association), and from 1994 as Vice President. Before joining FH, Darrow spent three years on staff at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland where he was discipled by Francis Schaeffer. He also served as a student pastor at Northern Arizona University and two years as a pastor of Sherman Street Fellowship in urban Denver, CO. In addition to earning his Master’s degree in Adult Education from Arizona State University, Darrow pursued graduate studies in philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics, biblical studies, and missions in the United States, Israel, and Switzerland. Darrow has authored numerous studies, articles, Bible studies and books, including Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture (YWAM Publishing, 1998), Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women for Building Healthy Cultures (InterVarsity Press, 2008), LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (YWAM, 2009), Rethinking Social Justice: Restoring Biblical Compassion (YWAM, 2015), and more. These resources along with links to free e-books, podcasts, online training programs and more can be found at Disciple Nations Alliance (https://disciplenations.org).


  1. Jon

    October 4, 2013 - 4:39 am

    I’ve been reading lots of this kind of thing through the Population Research Institute.

    Have you heard of the Demographic Winter?

    It seems that humanist belief systems self-destruct.

    Those who follow Christ, however, will prevail!

    • admin

      October 4, 2013 - 11:58 am

      Hi, Jon. It’s always good to hear from you, brother.

      Yes, you are right about the built-in self-destruction of humanism.

      Yes, we have written about the Demographic Winter. Here’s one post from some time back.

      Gary Brumbelow

  2. Joe kay

    January 30, 2014 - 3:02 pm

    Incredibly, in the face of a tsunami of evidence that the planet is exceeding its carrying capacity (K value) and all the poverty and horror it brings…..our learned professor still clamors for exponential population growth. Only two varieties of people support population growth….. Madmen and economists! I guess that degree in adult ed. didn’t cover any fundamental principles of biological science. There is one problem on the planet …… Massive populations of humans consuming everything, everywhere and leaving pollution, disease, poverty and all other horseman of the population explosion.

    • admin

      February 1, 2014 - 4:42 am

      Thanks for reading and your response. Our differing responses to the same issues reflect fundamentally different paradigms. The reality is that human beings are not simply mouths to be fed, but discoverers, innovators and creators. They have the responsibility to steward the earth and not consume it.

      • Wayne Savage

        May 22, 2014 - 4:06 pm

        Indeed we have a responsibility to steward the earth, a duty that can be founded in Christianity (or other moral frameworks). But it’s a responsibility that is exceedingly difficult to fulfill given exponential population growth in parts of the world that aspire to U.S. or European standards of living.

        • admin

          May 28, 2014 - 2:49 pm

          Hi, Wayne,

          Thanks for writing. You make an excellent observation about the moral framework behind the concept of stewardship. This is indeed a creation principle deriving from God’s mandate to the human to “work the garden and take care of it.”

          With reference to population growth, of course there is a school of thought that too many people comprise a serious danger to development and human flourishing. However, the same creation principles speak of “being fruitful” and filling the earth with people, imago Dei bearers who are in themselves the greatest resource. You might be interested in an earlier post, Exploding the Myth of Overpopulation.

          Another resource is Michael Novak’s book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism.

          Thanks for reading and writing!

          Gary Brumbelow

  3. John Stevens

    March 6, 2015 - 6:31 am

    So what is Japan and China doing about the negative demographic decline? How is it currently affecting their societies?

    • admin

      March 6, 2015 - 12:35 pm

      Hi John,

      China is reconsidering it’s one-child policy. Japan is trying various ways to encourage people to have more children, but with little success. For more on this problem see the video Demographic Winter https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZeyYIsGdAA.