Japan’s low birth rate


A few days ago I wrote about my ideas for a short presentation at my university. Initially I wanted to talk about self-consciousness but ended up talking instead about the problem of Japan’s low birth rate.

Since higher education is correlated with low birth rates, especially among women, I suggested closing down most of Japan’s humanities departments and giving grants to Japan’s 10% most intelligent young people to study STEM subjects. The other 90% would start work at 18 (or 14?) and get on-the-job training.

The appeal of this is that young Japanese would have disposable income and mingle with adults, thus growing up more quickly and leaving behind the extended childhood of Disneyland and Ghibli movies. They could save money, meet a nice boy or girl at their workplace, buy a house and get married at 21. So, pretty much how things worked before low birth rates became a problem in Japan.

My proposal didn’t go down well. Some students weren’t sure if I was joking, though some agreed that many young people wouldn’t bother studying if companies didn’t insist on job applicants having a university degree. As it is, young Japanese are forced to spend four years of their lives studying a subject that will probably be unrelated to the job they eventually get. Not having to do this would save their parents lots of money which they could spend on having another child!

So the fault lies primarily with Japanese companies insisting their applicants have a degree, which is really just a certificate proving you can knuckle down for four years and have reasonably well-off parents. It doesn’t say much about your intelligence nor various other things.

Perhaps a better, quicker and cheaper way for companies to sort the wheat from the chaff would be to give IQ tests to their applicants. This would only take an afternoon as opposed to four years and would cost the firm no more than it costs to interview a room full of applicants. It would cost the young applicants and their parents nothing at all, as opposed to the present £16,000 in tuition fee. As a bonus the company would get a more accurate idea of who was clever and who wasn’t.

Of course IQ tests can’t reveal whether a prospective employee has grit. One way round this would be for job applicants, after taking the IQ test, to give the fat boss of the company a piggyback ride a few times around the block. The applicants who go furthest and longest clearly have grit and this test of endurance, alongside the IQ scores, would indicate who should be hired and who shouldn’t.

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