Word Wise: Population Phrases

By Richard Medhurst

Japan’s declining birth rate and aging population affect its society in countless ways. The country is considering such issues as how to maintain enough workers to support its industries and social security expenses, while many of its smaller communities face potential extinction. Typically the changes Japan is going through are summed up in the phrase 少子高齢化, which may pop up in all kinds of texts.

少子高齢化 strictly means a decreasing proportion of children and increasing proportion of elderly people in the population due to a reduced birth rate and greater life expectancy. Both of the latter cause the overall increase in average age, although as nobody wants to make life expectancy shorter, it tends to receive less emphasis. As these are all linked phenomena, however, there is not always a need to mention them each time in translation. While 少子高齢化is a compact five-character phrase, “declining birth rate and aging population” may appear long-winded.

This is especially the case when the phrase appears twice or more in a short text. Depending on the focus of a sentence, it can usually be reduced in length to convey either the idea of “declining birth rate” or “aging population” through such translations as “the drop in the birth rate,” “fewer Japanese babies each year,” “as the average age of citizens rises,” or “the greying of the Japanese population.” Sometimes the theme is “population decline” itself. Having introduced the topic, it is also possible to use “demographic change” on a second mention.

As we all get older and wiser each day, please share your wisdom with suggestions of how you deal with the phrase or any other feedback by contacting SWET or commenting on the SWET Facebook Group.


Illustration: Stuart Ayre