East Asia–which includes China, Hong Kong, Japan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand–has been the fastest growing region in the world during the latter half of the 20th Century. Contrary to popular opinions, population density does not have a high correlation with economic growth (or economic downfalls). Other factors, such as fertility rates, GDP, and life expectancy provide more transparent reasoning for East Asia’s success. These factors also create room for speculation of the future for this economically flourishing region.
East Asia’s near tripling of real income per capita, from the mid 1960s till the dawn of the 21st century, was one of the most extraordinary economic phenomena that took place during the century. The rapid economic growth led economists such as John Page to document this in an article for the National Bureau of Economic Research as the “East Asian Miracle.” In his article, Page attributes East Asia’s prosperity to “demographic factors.” He asserts that following the standard approach, which acknowledges the possibility that the high population density might impede economic growth, was not the correct methodology. Aligning the population with economic growths, population density did not emerge as being significantly associated with the pace of economic growth.
However, studying the fertility and mortality rates, along with the GDP of these East Asian countries provided sound reasoning for East Asia’s economic boom. In the 1960s, the Asian population as a whole was still in the early stages of demographic transition; from 1960 to 1970, East Asia’s population pyramids were very “wide-based.” In these types of population pyramids, the largest cohort is the young group ranging from ages 0-10, and the smallest cohort is the old group consisting of ages 70 and older. The broad base is very significant, since the high proportion of children and low proportion of older people indicates a rapid population growth, combined with high fertility and high mortality rates.
As the large cohort of youth in East Asia aged, by the 1980s the bulge in the population pyramid at the young cohorts moved from being concentrated among young people to being concentrated at the prime ages for working. With an increased number of workers, these East Asian countries were able to significantly increase their output, while maintaining generally the same input, explaining the spike in GDP for this region. This is because the young and old age groups tend to consume more output than they generate, and with a decrease in the young and old age cohorts, the overall input of countries remain the same. The overall increase in output per person was a prime indicator of economic success.
After more people entered the workforce, there was a trickle-down effect that followed for the next two-plus decades. For example, since there was an increase in GDP, the fertility rate began to decline since...