Visuals: Falling sperm count

In 2017, Shanna Swan and Hagai Levine, along with six other researchers, estimated the average sperm count for 43,000 men in 55 countries across the world. The data, from 185 previously published studies, suggest that sperm counts fell by about 25% between 1973 and 2011. They found that sperm counts had in fact fallen by about 50% in Western countries over the period. Although the data were less plentiful, similar trends were observed in developing countries, too.

Please have a look at the chart below and discuss what you see with your teacher.


Japan's demographic changes

Japan is internationalisingand this process is rapidly accelerating. The driving force is demographic change. Japan’s population is ageing rapidly and shrinking. Add in other factors, including never-before-seen levels of foreign tourism, plus massive preparations for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, and the result is a nation that desperately needs more workers to fill jobs. 

Japan has been aware of this approaching demographic crisis for decades, but because successive governments have been reluctant to take major steps, the problem has become more urgent. 

Too many tourists in Japan

In 2016 the Japanese government set ambitious targets for foreign visitors as a way to generate economic growth as the population ages and shrinks. The government is on track to reach its goal of 40 million visitors by 2020, when Tokyo will host the Olympics.

But the rapid growth has brought problems, most obviously a shortage of labour. Relatively few Japanese are able to converse smoothly in English or other foreign languages. Most companies rely on point-sheets, translation apps or telephone services to communicate with guests.

There are cultural barriers, too. Shizue Usui, the head of Nikko’s association of okami—female hosts at inns—says they tend to think “tradition should be maintained.” That often boils down to rigid rules about check-in, meal times and other services.

Working mothers in Japan

The Japanese government wants women to work more and have more children, but it lacks concrete plans of how to do so. To begin with, there is a drastic need to increase government-funded care for children of all ages. In Japanese elementary schools, a lot of the activities and meetings fall in the middle of a weekday, and while public afterschool care does exist, in many places it is only for children up through third grade.

To truly support families and encourage people to have kids in the first place, both women and men should be encouraged to leave work earlier and take paid leave. As long as this issue is not properly addressed, then nothing is really going to change.

New minpaku law regulates rentals

A new law will go into effect in June 2018 to regulate minpaku, private residences rented out by their owners as short-term lodgings. The new law will address changes that have occurred in recent years due to the rise of Airbnb, the worldwide online service that allows travelers to book rooms in private homes directly from the owners of those residences.

After June 15, minpaku rentals will be permitted throughout Japan. Under the new law, if owners don’t live in the building where they rent rooms, they will be required to hire a management company to take care of the property. 

Rapid urbanisation

In 2015, 85% of global GDP was generated in cities. Growing cities require substantial investments in infrastructure if they are to continue expanding at their present rate. It’s estimated that we will invest $78 trillion in global infrastructure over the next 10 years alone to accommodate this growth. New York, Beijing, Shanghai and London will need $8 trillion in infrastructure investments alone.