BBC News – Japan population to shrink by one-third by 2060


As if the current economic environment were not difficult enough, Japan, like Germany, is slated to see a very dramatic reduction in population size by the middle of the century. As it is, pretty much all countries in the developed world are expected to see an aging of the population. This is not new news. But, brands are going to have to prepare for these inevitabilities.

When will businesses start to adapt their strategies, particularly in regard to the fight for talent? Brands are going to have to get used to “talking” with the older generations — all the while having “young” employees (who use a different vocabulary, different communication tools… and, overall, have different preoccupations).

Even China will be faced with a very dramatic change in demographics…

I think that countries such as France will need to lift their retirement age well beyond the current level… Presumably, the same will be happening in Japan, Germany and elsewhere… Let’s get ready for the LONG HAUL!

What are you going to do to get ready? My first thought is keep fit and sleep longer hours! You?

The Greying of the World – Enough to make you go grey!

Not that it is supposed to be ironic, but below is a grey newspaper clipping with dark grey text, shaded columns and a light grey contour on a white background… Lots of nuances in those greys! Take a look at the graphic below, which is taken from the Herald Tribune of October 16, 2010 (source is the UN Population Division, assuming medium fertility in each of the countries).  It is perhaps a concept with which we are all familiar; but, a picture can tell a thousand words, literally. Continue reading

Obamania Worldwide – The Dreams & The Reality


Barack & Michelle ObamaThe effect of the Obama victory overseas has been impressive. Much like the initial outpouring after September 11th, 2001, since November 5th, 2008, I have come across a newfound sense of support for the US from many different corners of the world, and the support is quite similar in intensity. For most foreigners with whom I speak, the sentiment goes along the lines: You, Americans (at least on the coasts), faced with the biggest worldwide economic crisis in a century, 2 long unfinished wars, an Osama Bin Laden still on the lam, the prospect of ecological disasters and the risk of more voter scandals (untested new urns), overcame the urge for a recidivist reactionary vote, to adopt and hail its base values by electing Obama.

What is driving this support around the world for Obama? In part, I detect an enormous feeling of hope, like the release of a good dream.Dream He represents hope that change is truly going to come. What is said can be done. That diversity is not just a buzz word. I also detect that many are putting their hopes on the shoulders of Americans to rebolster the world, a world that is increasingly rocky. Beyond the economic crisis and environmental concerns, the Western world is worried by the deeper, structural issues including the rise of China, the Russian renaissance, the continuing splintering of nationalities and ethnicities as well as the omen of global terrorism. I don’t mean to have visions of grandeur for the Americans, but we all need to dream and many people seem to have tied up their dreams with Obamania. Aside from the 66.7 million American voters, Muslim communities around the world, the African community (well beyond Kenya), even a town in Japan have identified or associated themselves with Obama. And in the “If the World Could Vote” site, 87.3% of the nearly 900,000 people (up from the 49,000 I wrote about in my September post) casting their online selection for Obama.

Few would doubt that Obama’s plate is eminently full. As a black Parisian radiologist, Maxim, said to me, “it is a poisoned gift.”

For Obama and the Americans, all the real work is now ahead and it will be important to observe (a) the level and effectiveness in the bipartisanship — I have been positively impressed by the effect of President Sarkozy had in bringing in several valuable Socialists into his government; and (b) how Obama manages against the oh-so-high expectations. If the Democratic party were to get a filibuster-proof 60 seats in the Senate (3 seats still undecided) and with the strong House representation (between 255-259 seats), there is a chance that Obama will be able to put through a good portion of his vision. But, what happens systematically — it seems no matter the president, the party or the country — is that there is a boomerang effect some 12-18 months after induction into office. The dissatisfied electorate then “punishes” the standing leader, curbs his or her power and the result is a near lame-duck experience for the remaining years. I have started to think that this is just a natural cycle in democracy. More likely than not, an external and/or unexpected event will likely occur that will unbalance the apple cart and, whether or not his policies have had time to work, will have a material impact on his presidency. It does seem ironic that an unexpected event will be likely. But, this, too, seems to be a part of the natural cycle.

Four More Reflections

As I ponder this Sunday morning, there are four more things I would like to say about the past couple of weeks.

China Flag1/ Don’t you find it symbolic that the Chinese bailout plan at $586B is just below the US one in size ($700B)? Although, compared to its GDP (China’s is estimated at US$3-4 trillion versus $14 trillion for the US), the Chinese effort is far more seismic. You get the feeling that the turning point is around the corner. The burgeoning question for me is how will we, Americans, manage to alter our mania for consumption, so much a fibre of today’s US society?

Speed Limit = 50 mph 2/ Forty’s are in. Obama, at 47 years old, joins a healthy stable of “forty-something” leaders. Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili is the youngest I could find at 41 years old. Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev and Sweden’s PM Fredrik Reinfeldt are 43. Ukraine’s Yulia Tymoshenko, Ireland’s Brian Cohen and Spain’s Jose Luis Zapatero are 48. Canada’s Stephen Harper is 49. I am sure that I have missed out a few others — but these are all (with the exception of Harper) leaders born in the 1960s. [Note, among other notables, that Sarkozy (53), Merkel (54), and Putin (56) are, with the majority of other leaders, in their 50s.]

3/ Seeing that Obama is a Web 2.0 President-elect (he has his own Twitter, MyBarackObama blog, YouTube, etc), how far can he be a Sustainable Development-President as well? See here for a prior post on the relatedness of web 2.0 and sustainable development. Certainly, this article by Thomas Claburn at InformationWeek
would seem to back up the possible correlation. ADDED 22 NOVEMBER: I was turned on to this NY Times article, “Generation O get its hopes up” (Nov 7) after publishing this post. Obama communicated in a way that “spoke” to people. As the article writes, “Government under Mr. Obama, they believe, would value personal disclosure and transparency in the mode of social-networking sites. Teamwork would be in fashion, along with a strict meritocracy.”

4/ Did you realize that within two days of each other, Obama won the US Presidency, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won the Paris Masters 2008 and was crowned #1 for France, while Lewis Hamilton became the youngest ever Formula 1 Champion? As both Hamilton and Tsonga are 23 1/2 years old, Obama at 47 is exactly double their age. And all three of them are métise (specifically a black father and a white mother). Rather remarkable, no?

Your thoughts?

Heir Hunters or Probate Genealogists and Aging Octogenarians

Getting older every day…and more lonely?

This post is about two trends that seem to be crossing inexorably: the aging of populations around the world and the general lack of people taking care of this group.

If you feel like you are getting older, you are not alone. As the site says in a report published in 1999, “[g]lobally, the number of octogenarians is projected to increase to 311 million in 2050, 5.3 times its 1998 size.” In France, there are already well over a million people over 85 years old – a number that is projected to rise dramatically and quickly: to 2.2 million over 85 years old by 2015. The problem, according to an article in the Le Figaro of July 17, 2008, « Pénurie de main-d’œuvre pour les emplois de service, » is that there will not be enough people to care for the predictable increase of octogenarians… so you may be alone after all. Demographics - Age Pyramid UN 1998 Worldwide[Note the 2050 line in Figure 1 from the UN site, showing for the “more developed regions” that the women bulge is significantly higher/older than the men.]

Another notable example is Japan, where over half of the population will be over 65 years old in less than 50 years. In absolute figures, the UN study projects, “[f]ive countries will have 10 million or more people over 80 years old. They include China, which will have 100 million; India, 47 million; the United States, 27 million; Japan, 12 million; and Indonesia, 10 million.”

The aging of the populations around the world is obviously going to create new economies and business opportunities. While on a recent trip to England, I discovered an until-now-not-heard-of business regarding firms that specialize in hunting down heirs of recently deceased people whose “next of kin” is not identified or known.

This type of business exists AT LEAST in the US and UK and I assume in many other countries although I stopped short of doing a worldwide search. Out of LA in the US, there is The HHI site comes replete with information on the company’s TV appearances (Court TV) and its own blog — quite a media spin. The percentage of the assets the surprised heir gives to the heir hunters is “negotiable.” Of course, the interesting challenge must be to declare to the prospective heir that the money/assets exist, but that the name of the deceased must be withheld until the signing of the contract. Apparently, the hunter’s rate is between 20% and 50%. What a business — a win/win except for the deceased who was more-or-less abandoned in the last part of his/her life.

As one of the HHI founders says in the Court TV session: “it’s a very, very competitive business,” which means that time is of the essence. And HHI is certainly not alone. A more “low key” heir hunter company in the US is “American Research Bureau” which does not like to advertise (and its site is exceedingly dull)… and perhaps with good reason. In the UK, you can find out about probate geneologists (aka heir hunters) Fraser & Fraser, or Finders UK, The BBC carries a series on Heir Hunters. The heir hunters don’t have a particularly good reason (read here for more from

What the whole notion (or specter) of heir hunters fails to highlight is that there are so many people dying without their next of kin being aware: what does that say to family ties and the loneliness of the deceased? With the oncoming wave of octogenarians and the lack of personnel and family members to take care of them, it would seem that heir hunters [as well as caregivers] have a bright future. Of course, that assumes that the housing and stock market resumes its bull run some time soon!

Anyone else want to write about other great business opportunities?

Births out of wedlock

In France, it was announced (see here in the NY Sun!) by INSEE, the Paris-based national statistics agency, that in 2007, for the first time, the number of babies born out of wedlock eclipsed 50% (hitting 50.5%). That sent me scurrying across the web to find comparative stats. I was not sure, but I assumed that France was not alone in that trend. And that is an understatement. The trend is international. And quite a statement on the plight of marriage, as well as on the state of society.

Here is what I found out.

In the UK, this BBC report from 2004 said that the rate in Britain had reached 42%. But it is Sweden that leads all EU countries with around 53% (see Eurostat graphic to right). Sweden (red line on top) was already at 52% in 1995. France (green line) has been the second highest in Europe since the mid-1980s. Some good info on this Demographic Blog, and a comprehensive recent post on Demography Matters.

In the US, per 2005 CDC Gov stats, the percentage is 36.9%. Who makes up that 37% is not easy to piece together. But, already on the immigration front, courtesy of the Center for Immigration site, I have the following details and quotes:

  • Hispanic immigrants have seen the largest increase in out-of-wedlock births — from 19 percent of births in 1980 to 42 percent in 2003. This is important because Hispanics account for nearly 60 percent of all births to immigrants.

  • In addition to the 42 percent rate for Hispanic immigrants, the illegitimacy rate is now 39 percent for black immigrants, 11 percent for Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 12 percent for white immigrants.

  • There’s no indication of improvement over the generations. Among natives, the illegitimacy rate is 50 percent for Hispanics; 30 percent for Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 24 percent for whites.

  • There is no evidence that illegitimacy is related to legal status. Illegitimacy is common in many immigrant-sending counties. According to the UN, in Mexico and Canada the illegitimacy rate is 38 percent; in El Salvador it’s 73 percent; and it’s 86 percent in Jamaica

Per this CITY, Hispanic Family Values article, there is clearly a lot of concern with regard this trend of births out of wedlock in the Hispanic community. And I quote from this article, “[E]very 1,000 unmarried Hispanic women bore 92 children in 2003 (the latest year for which data exist), compared with 28 children for every 1,000 unmarried white women, 22 for every 1,000 unmarried Asian women, and 66 for every 1,000 unmarried black women. Forty-five percent of all Hispanic births occur outside of marriage, compared with 24 percent of white births and 15 percent of Asian births. Only the percentage of black out-of-wedlock births—68 percent—exceeds the Hispanic rate.” This NPR podcast deals further with the situation for Black Americans.

Perhaps another area that deserves highlighting is the appallingly high number of teen births in the US. This article from says the following:

“The birth rate among teenagers [in the U.S.] declined 2 percent in 2005, continuing a trend from the early 1990s. The rate is now about 40 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19. That is the lowest level in the 65 years for which a consistent series of rates is available. The U.S. teen birth rate is still the highest among industrialized countries.”

Looking at births out of wedlock, in general, the most critical issue may just be the existence of a loving couple to bring up that child. But between the high numbers of teen births and the high divorce rates, not to mention out-of-wedlock births, there is surely a new paradigm shift underway in terms of the composition of family. Apparently, Gen Yers are placing high(er) esteem on traditional values of family and are now looking for guidance and mentors. It would seem that there is a lot of work to be done on all fronts to create a successful concept/image of long-term marriage, new economic models and incentives and, above all, EDUCATION for what is, as far as teen and out-of-wedlock births are concerned, an over-weighted phenomenon in under-educated classes.

US Embassy in Paris – Latest thread

As my passport saga draws to a close (I picked up today the new 10-year passport, replete with 48 extra pages to last me through 2017), I thought I would comment one more time on the US Embassy experience. This time, notwithstanding high expectations in terms of efficiency that were entirely met, I turn my attention to the population that waited with me in the large hall. This Monday morning, it was a busy day. By 9:15am, all 100 seats in the waiting area were filled and there were about 100 more people milling around, looking at the small electronic board announcing whose number was next (accompanied by a recorded voice). The lack of an announcement board in the lower section of the hall, where there were another 30+ empty seats, meant that everyone preferred to stay in the large room, even if it meant standing. A few observations. First, the composition of those waiting. Bearing in mind the people are nominally either French people seeking to go to the US or US citizens, it was quite interesting to see that between 60%-70% of the crowd was a visible minority, specifically Black, Latino and Asian. Secondly, I was very agreeably surprised by the repetitive courtesy that the various “people behind the window” showed to the visa seekers. There was visibly an effort to smile and be receptive to each candidate. This was a far different experience from our visits to the US consulate in Montreal over the last few years. I wonder who is responsible for managing this “disposition” and whether it is left up to the personnel in each Embassy or whether this is a general “order” to all Embassies. Of course, I don’t think that the satisfaction level is miraculously high, but it was still nice to see. The third comment was how the line was drawn down with great speed. At 9 o’clock, there were just 4 “official” windows open. By 9:15, there were 6 and by 9:30, there were 11 windows cranking through the crowd, whose sides kept swelling. Contrary to a prior post, I came to the conclusion that there is still a thriving demand to visit the US. And the comment of the guard at the outside security gate confirmed it, “Monsieur, c’est comme ça tous les jours.” I am now the happy owner of a fully valid passport. Bad news is that each time I enter the US, for my sins of having lost my passport, I will have to go through the song and dance of proving it is my authentic passport.

China: Do you see 2020?: Financial Ascent vs Demographic Descent

Last night, at the MSG (not-in-my-salad) Arena, there was a curious heavyweight boxing match between two Chinamen. One, in the gold shorts, was the China of Optimism (CO). In the other corner, wearing satin red shorts, was the China of Porcelain Doubt (aka PCDo). The bout was about to enter into its 10th round when I curled up and went to sleep. It is probably going to go on for a while further. In fact, the match may just as easily step outside the ring and resound throughout our global arena. In any event, here were some of the highlights of the match.

In the first rounds, CO was all over PCDo. Some ringing hits to the upper body as well as inside on the chin(a):

* In China, as evidence that access to the stock market is truly democratizing, there are on average 200,000 new brokerage accounts opened each day. In 2005, there were just 2 million opened all year.

* In May 2007, the Chinese government plopped down $3B for 10% of the Blackstone Group.

* US trade deficit with China hit $232B in 2006 up from $50B in 1997.

* China will overtake the US in number of Internet users in 2009: “There are now an estimated 137 million Internet users in China, and that number has been growing by 18 percent since 2004 until it picked up even more steam in 2006, going up to 23 percent. The United States has 165 million Internet users, according to Pew, with 25 million of those users being aged 12-17. At the current rate of growth in China, the number of Chinese web surfers will surpass the number of American users some time in 2009, and it will continue to rise sharply afterward. With more than half of Americans already online, China’s growth over the next 10 years will easily dwarf that of the United States.” — Jeremy Reimer . As my friend Mitch reminded me from Singapore yesterday, one of the interesting facets of the Chinese internet boom is the censorship of Beijing and the permeability of the Great Chinese Firewall (see BusinessWeek article).

But, PCDo was not to be outdone, storming back with some profound counterattacks for the remainder of the evening. Even though PCDo is slightly chubby around the midrift, his age and world-famed wisdom pulled its weight.

* There is much to say about the Chinese demographics, notably that the total population will spiral up to a peak of 1.5 billion people by 2030. More important is the composition of that 1.5B population. By 2040, the UN projects that the elderly (60+) share of the population will jump from 12.8% (or 174 million according to a document issued by the China National Committee on Aging in 2006 to 28 percent, a larger elder share than it projects for the United States. By 2040, assuming current demographic trends continue, the Chinese elderly will number nearly 400 million–more than the total current population of France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom combined.** When you compare the span of time and the rate of increase of elderly in China to the West — whose elderly share rose from 10% in the 1930s to an anticipated 25% a hundred years later — one has to assume that such a meteoric change will have rude consequences in the social climate and economic dynamics. Courtesy of FuturePundit.

* Currently, the Chinese Fertility Rate is 1.82 births per woman. In 2001, the average was estimated at 1.98 in rural areas and 1.22 in urban areas. (Hamayoun Kahn study). See right: the People’s Republic of China’s Fertility Rate 1949-1999 as estimated by the US Census Bureau graph.

* The UN projects that the size of China’s working age population, on whose shoulders will be the burden of creating wealth and taking care of the burgeoning elderly class, will peak in 2015. The rate of decline after that point will depend on future fertility rates. If the fertility rate remains constant (an optimistic viewpoint for some), the population of the working-age Chinese will drop a staggering 18% between 2005 and 2050. And, it could be considerably worse than that as well if the fertility rate declines. The risks would point to wage inflation due to a lack of workforce supply.

* Considering the socio-economic pressure, just 25 percent of China’s total workforce, urban and rural, have any pension provision at all.

* Bare Branches offers some statistics on the ratio of boys to girls. “In China, the official ratio is 117 boys born for every 100 girls, but the reality is probably 120 or more. In India, the official birth sex ratio is 111-114 boys per 100 girls, but spot checks show ratios of up to 156 boys per 100 girls in some locales [around New Delhi, for example]. For comparison, normal birth sex ratios are 105-107 boys born per 100 girls.” (Still debated in biologist circles, human beings apparently naturally create more boys than girls.) Courtesy of IHT article published in 2004. The disarming prospect of an overstretched economy, insufficient funding for retirement, fewer children (and fewer still women) to take care of the eldery — China’s main instrument of retirement — as well as the fact that the future wave of elderly will not have reached affluence (unlike today’s baby boomers), is bound to be a very heavy strain.

CO put in some good later rounds, however, reminding us that education is as gold as discipline.

* Higher education is on a fast track in China with 12 percent of senior high school graduates entering universities and colleges for further study in 2001, compared with 3.4 percent in 1990. There are now more than 4 million students at college or university in China, with an estimated half million Chinese students at higher education abroad.

* China provides universal health care. However, clearly, there are substantial cracks in the system, as witnessed by the Avian Flu issue, Hepatitis B (affecting est. 10% of the population), widespread smoking and escalating HIV/AIDS.

* Percentage of Chinese living in poverty has dropped from 73% in 1990 to 32% in 2003.

* China’s economy has averaged over 9% annual growth since 1978.

There it was, the end of the 9th round. Most people were still looking for CO to cruise to victory. The panel of famous international judges, including Hugo Capex, Harold Persons and Sly Dettor
, were wringing their hands and shaking their heads. The arena was a buzz with chat. I know it seems odd, but zzzzzzzhangzu, I started to snore. So, I let you commentate the next rounds as I zzzzzzzzzzinzhua away at night.


I approached this particular post as if I were a universal (not exactly university) student starting out on a research paper. Aside from the content of this post — on which I freely invite comment — I am fascinated at how different is the process of research in today’s world compared to our traditional methods back when… Where appropriate, I have given a link rather than outright citation of credit. Not exactly scientific, but part of the web 2.0 of dealing with multiple sources. This post is not intended to be a definitive study, but a collection of some miscellaneous facts about China that lead me to be confused about the future, more than make me more entrenched. No doubt there is a silver lining or black cloud behind any number. And the above “match-up” limits itself to internal issues. Jokers in the future will include developments in Korea, Japan, as well as the role China takes on internationally once it has the measure of the world.

** Richard Jackson and Neil Howe, The Graying of the Middle Kingdom, Report published by Center for Strategic & International Studies, April 2004, p.2.

Why Old Boys don’t feel old

Had a lovely dinner the other night with some old school friends. Not that it [old] means anything, but we’ve all known each other for over 25 years. And, judging by some parts of the evening, we certainly were not wanting to act our age. In certain respects, I am inclined to keep getting younger. The older one gets, the younger one feels like being. That can also lead one to be considered perhaps more eccentric, quirky. But, being the very last eligible year of the baby boomer generation (’64), I feel it in my right to affirm my youthfulness. Yes, I still want to hackie sack, to toss the disc, and wig out to the Dead. I want to feel good. I want to be me. Love this photographic blog on the topic: groovy granny spotter. Have to subscribe to the notion that, as Robin Wight, Chairman of WCRS says, “everybody in their head is 25.” That’s true of the teenager. That’s true of me.

Paying taxes in France

After attending a briefing meeting by KPMG on how to pay French taxes (we are getting close to tax day here), I found a few items worthy of note.

Unlike most [modern] countries, there is no salary with-holding (by the employer) for taxes. Just for social security — proof of the importance of the social system. Don’t worry about paying your taxes (which are always paid a year later); but we need the social security!

The location and organization for where you send in your tax return is separate from the tax collector. A very antiquated system — sounds like a hangover of the regal days. For extra headache, the return should not be accompanied by any payment. Just a little more bureaucratic inefficiency and overhead.

You have to love the CSG/CRDS taxes which were originally temporary “surtaxes” to fund social security deficits and public debt. Then they became permanent. First they were deducted on salary only. Now they form an additional income tax on investment income (flat 11%).

Tax credits take up a full page of the 4 pages of the 2042 form. Among the (sometimes rather obscure) credit options, you get a whopping 61E per child in further education at the ‘college’ level (5-8th grade). Just another incentive to have children (pervasive concept in the tax return).

Finally, there is a television tax in France (as in UK). The origin of this tax was to fund public television. Since tv is slowly dying out and tv’s will be mutating to computers, I wonder how long the government will take to figure out that the bigger money lies in computer screens (I.e. as multimedia center).

No taxes are fun or straight forward. But you have to love the history and “meanings” within.

Coming of Age – L’Age a Venir

La chaine Arte a passé une émission très intéressante hier soir concernant le vieillissement de l’Europe (sans oublier la Russie où en plus l’espérance de vie est en train de chuter). L’émission projetait la société en 2030. Voir Entre des scènes de rupture sociale entre les « jeunes » et les « retraités » autour des zones littérales en France ou bien l’image de la ville de Berlin remplie de personnes âgées en chaises roulantes, leur position était clair : le problème démographique est réel et le(s) gouvernement(s) ont besoin de réagir pour, entre autre, arrêtés les départs en retraite si tôt (dont les conducteurs de train SNCF à 50 ans…). Le nombre de « vieux » qui sont en retraite involontaire (après passage désobligeant dans le placard) et qui veulent continuer à travailler est de plus en plus élevé. N’ayant pas l’option de risquer un startup, ils doivent chercher des « petits boulots » dans les entreprises. Mais comment les insérer dans une entreprise alors que la jeunesse rime avec potentiel. Des agences apparemment existent pour faciliter cette tache (j’ai trouvé ces deux sites et ). Mais le plus dur restera de trouver des sociétés avec l’envie de les embaucher quand il y a tout de même un niveau élevé de chômage parmi les jeunes. Il faudrait déjà dans un premier temps encourager les sociétés à valoriser leurs anciens actuels. Par ailleurs, on pourrait imaginer des conditions de travail bien plus flexibles, bureaux à domicile… En Belgique, où le problème est similaire voire pire (61% de la population de l’âge de travail travaille vers 63% en France ; versus 74-76% pour les pays scandinaves), ils ont déjà fait des efforts dans ce sens. Quelque soit la solution, à la clé sera une stimulation de l’économie afin de permettre l’embauche volontaire des personnes disponibles. Et les actions doivent être prises aussi bien dans le secteur public que le secteur privé.