Japan's Aging Society

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I. Introduction/ Topic Explanation

Japan has the fastest aging population in the world. After the second world war, rising productivity and a fast-growing labor force created a growth miracle, in which Japan went from the ruins of war to the world’s second-largest economy. In the next few decades, that process will go in reverse as the working-age population shrinks, along with the declining birth rate. The economy will shrink unless Japan finds a way to make its productivity rise faster than the decline of its workforce. This paper will examine the economic and social effects of an aging society and offer recommendations to alleviate the issue.

II. Identification of Problem

The extent and impact of a rapidly aging society (koreika shakai) is of great public concern in Japan. Already 23% of Japanese are age 65 or older, with the expectation that over-65s will grow to 41% by 2055. Caught by the dual impact of an aging society and a plummeting birth rate, Japan’s total population is estimated to decrease by 25% from 127.8 million in 2005 to 95.2 million by 2050. By 2050, four out of ten Japanese will be over 65 (PBR, 2010). The impact of these trends will affect every aspect of Japanese society in the decades to come.

Source: PDR

Source: The Economist

Japan's demographic problem has its roots in decreasing birth rates and longer lifespans. The former have begun to starve the country for young workers to replace those retiring, while the latter ensure that a growing population of retired citizens will be dependent on a diminishing working population. Although every industrialized country faces this problem, Japan's situation is by far the worst, not least because Japan has no hope of an influx of youthful immigrants to lessen the problem. According to Japan's Ministry of Health and Welfare, in less than five years the country's demographic trends will give it a population profile like Florida's. By 2015, one in four Japanese citizens will be 65 or older. In 2010, Japan had fewer than half the workers per retiree it had in 1997, a mere 2.5 people of working age for every pensioner. And since not all of working age choose to work or can find employment, it is likely that in the early 21st century Japan will have fewer than two people at work for every retiree.

Death rates have fallen dramatically, and the average life span of a Japanese citizen has increased by about 30 years over the past half century. Life expectancy is now 82 for women and 76 for men. People in their eighties and nineties have become commonplace in Japan, and even the number of centenarians is rapidly increasing. As of September 2012, Japan now has more than 50,000 centenarian citizens. (Wall Street Journal, 2012).

Population began to fall in 2008 and in 2012 stood at 127.6 million. The median age is 45.6 years – much higher than the regional average. The aging of Japanese society could undermine economic performance. The government estimates that 40% of the population will be of retirement age by 2060. The marriage rate has fallen by a third from its peak in 1972 and the fertility rate currently stands at just 1.4 births per female, down from 1.9 in 1977. (Passport GMID, 2012).

There will soon be a dire shortage of caregivers for the elderly. When visiting elderly facilities and nursing homes, we can see that the elderly are cared for by the near-elderly (Birt, 2010). What happens when the caregivers need care? Who will provide the physically and mentally demanding work of caring for those suffering from dementia, those who are infirm with disease, and those who are most vulnerable? Governments can build hospitals, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities, but there is no immediate solution for supplying caregivers when the population pyramid has been turned upside down.

Analysis/ Evaluation

Japan's population is aging faster than that of any other country in the world. The unprecedented...
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