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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The future will have fewer children.

Why it matters: Across the advanced economies, the population of children is declining. With a shrinking pool of youth entering the work force, many fear that industrial economies like Japan's could teeter, with acute worker shortages and less tax income for social payments to the bulging elderly population.

The big picture: Nowhere are children scarcer than in Japan and South Korea, which have spent billions to raise their birth rates but have failed so far to halt the trend. But the demography is almost everywhere.

  • "Shrinking fertility is a trend in most modern societies — in most of Europe and quite a bit of Asia. Japan’s just the leader," Mei Fong, author of "One Child," a book on China's one-child policy, tells Axios.
  • The number of children on Earth younger than 15 will peak at 2.09 billion in 2057 and begin a decline, falling just under 2 billion by 2100, writes demographer Max Roser.
  • The U.S. has record low fertility, Axios' Bob Herman reported earlier, falling to 3.94 million babies in 2016, about 37,000 fewer than 2015.

Be smart: The demographics are a hard inducement for aging advanced economies to embrace advances in robotics that can take the place of humans across industries.

  • Japan's population of children has declined for 37 straight years, report CNN's Yoko Wakatsuki and James Griffiths. As of April 1, "children made up just 12.3% of [Japan's population], compared to 18.9% for the US, 16.8% for China, and 30.8% for India," CNN said.
  • In South Korea, some experts call it a "birth strike," reports CBC's Kim Brunhuber.
  • "Young people either don't marry, marry late, or don't have children," says Gi-Wook Shin, a professor at Stanford University, speaking with Axios. "The big question is what to do."

Countries have tried different solutions:

  • Over the last decade, South Korea has spent about $70 billion in inducements such as free child care to encourage couples to have children, but to no avail. "Some say it's time to embrace migration like the U.S. and Canada. But many Koreans and Japanese are hesitant to embrace immigrants," Shin said.
  • Scandinavian countries have tamped down the trend by "throwing a lot into social support networks and, as important, shoring up gender equity," says Fong. "Straightforward baby bonuses like what Japan’s offering don’t seem to work without gender equity."

That is one explanation for the boom in robots in Asia.

"If you can’t grow it or import it, the next step appears to be to make it, with robotics used not just in manufacturing but to meet the most pressing need — eldercare support."
— Mei Fong

Go deeper: Read about "Peak Human," the possibility that the total global population could decline this century.

Go deeper

2 hours ago - World

Report: LGBTQ+ Afghans' lives "dramatically worsened" under Taliban rule

Taliban fighters in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this month. Photo: Mohd Rasfan/AFP via Getty Images

LGBTQ+ Afghans have been threatened, attacked and "faced an increasingly desperate situation and grave threats to their safety" since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last August, per a report published Wednesday.

What they're saying: "We spoke with LGBT Afghans who have survived gang rape, mob attacks, or have been hunted by their own family members who joined the Taliban, and they have no hope that state institutions will protect them," per a statement from study co-author J. Lester Feder.

4 hours ago - World

Canadian Indigenous group finds 93 suspected unmarked graves

A makeshift memorial honoring the 215 children whose remains were found in a mass grave in Brantford, Ontario, Canada, last May. Photo: Cole Burston/AFP via Getty Images

Indigenous leaders in Canada's western province of British Columbia said Tuesday they believe they've found 93 unmarked graves near a former boarding school.

The big picture: Hundreds of mass graves have been found at the grounds of former residential schools for Indigenous children since last May, when the remains of 215 children were uncovered at one such site in B.C.

7 hours ago - World

Coast Guard searches for 39 people after boat capsizes off Florida coast

A U.S. Coast Guard ship leaving its base in Miami Beach, Florida, in July. Photo: AP/Marta Lavandier

U.S. Coast Guard crews were searching into the night for 39 people whose boat sank off Florida's coast over the weekend after traveling from the Bahamas.

The big picture: A "good Samaritan" contacted the Coast Guard about 8 a.m. Tuesday to say they "rescued a man clinging to a capsized vessel" 45 miles east of Fort Pierce, per a tweet from the agency, which noted it was dealing with "a suspected human smuggling venture."