Social Problem of Aging Population in Japan
Developed countries are waking up to a new dawn with a new problem: an aging population. There has been a recognition of the phenomenon as a challenge that many developed and developing countries across the world have to deal with (Kudo, Mutisya, & Nagao, 2015). Evidence points to an increasingly aging population shown from the percentage of individuals aged 60 and above. In 1950, individuals aged 60-plus accounted for only 8 percent of the population, a number that has since grown to 12 percent in 2014 and expected to reach 21 percent by 2050 (Kudo, Mutisya, & Nagao, 2015). As one of the developed countries in the world, the challenge of an aging population plagues Japan. The country has made tremendous advances in technology, health, and economy, making it boast some of the longest life expectancies and highest elderly population in the world at 84 and 27% respectively (Bloom et al., 2018). While the high life expectancies and technological advancements are a good thing, Japan facing the problem of an aging population that has implications on its society. The paper will discuss the causes and social problems that come with the aging population in the country.
Japan’s aging population is the outcome of a combination of factors. According to Bloom et al. (2018), one of the factors contributing to the age wave is the aging of the country’s baby boomer generation. Born between 1947 and 1949, Japan’s baby boomer generation began their normal retirement of 65 in 2012. Born at a time of high fertility levels in the Japanese population, the baby boomers accounted for 6.3 percent of the total Japanese population. The population’s a sheer number (8.1 million) and shift out of the active labor force considerably changes Japan’s population pyramid.
Bloom et al. (2018) and Horlacher (2002) point an accusing finger of Japan’s aging population to the decline in fertility rate. Japan’s fertility rate has been on a steady decline since 1973, moving from 2 children per married woman to 1.5 births per woman—one of the lowest in the world (Bloom et al., 2018; Horlacher, 2002). Reduced fertility rates and an increased life expectancy thus intensify the country’s skewed age distribution away from the youth.
Women marrying into Japanese households usually have the responsibility of caring for their husbands’ aging parents. The tradition of caring for aging parents is especially an obligation to the wife of the eldest son. Japanese families are traditionally small and the proportion of eldest sons went from 40 percent in 1957 to 72 percent in 1998 (Horlacher, 2002). The obligation of caring for aging parents-in-law has never been an attractive proposition to educated women focused on their careers. Such women decline marriage, further reducing the country’s fertility while increasing its aging population.
Japan’s divorce rates have been on a rising trend over the decades. According to Horlacher (2002), divorce rates more than doubled between 1960 and 1995. Part of the reasons for the growth of divorce includes a larger population of people living in urban areas, an acceptance among young people of divorce, and a larger proportion of women working as paid employees and therefore not requiring financial help from their spouses (Usman & Tomimoto, 2013). Moreover, education levels and declined sex differential in wages has dissuaded women from marriage (while encouraging divorce), thus lowering fertility and increasing the aging population.
Japan’s aging population creates social problems for the country. Among these problems are the aggravated levels of unemployment among the youth. An aging and declining population mean there are no young people to fill the positions left by the retiring workforce. The field in which more are retiring exacerbates the problem. Usman and Tomimoto (2013) posit that different fields currently have under and oversaturation. With two-thirds of youth going for engineering and applied sciences fields and only a third taking courses in natural and social science and economics, there is an imbalance in the fields and unemployment.
Japan’s aging population means that the country faces a double social problem of unemployment and a reduced workforce. While unemployment results from oversaturation in the engineering and applied sciences fields, the retiring baby boomers leave the workforce with not much in the young population to replace them (Usman & Tomimoto, 2013). Such levels of decline in the workforce put the country’s economy at jeopardy in relation to production and its current position as the third world’s largest economy. A decline in such a prestigious position also has a devastating effect on the morale and psyche of the entire population.
Japan is additionally facing higher old-age dependency ratio. By comparison, the 1970s had low old-age dependency ratios at 10 old-age dependents per 100 people (working age). Horlacher (2002) informs that the number increased to 25 per 100 people, with estimates putting it at 66 dependents by 2050. Higher dependency ratios are not only economically but also emotionally draining to those caring for the old. While many of Japan’s old dependents were economically stable having saved and accumulated assets over their working years, the exigencies that come with caring for the old can be socially tasking to young.
Japan’s aging population means that healthcare becomes an additional social cost to not only the government but dependents as well. Bloom et al. (2018) affirm that caretakers use their productive time caring for the old, sick, and infirm. Such people could exert that time in productive activities. Additionally, it is natural for the old to require medication, hospitalization, and other special services. Providing such services is especially taxing to the Japanese government. As of 2017, the country spent 10.7% (6th highest in the world) of its GDP on healthcare (Bloom et al., 2018). Wrapped within the healthcare cost is care for the aging population. The cost also further extends to financing the National Pension Program, which accounted for 33.3% of the government’s FY2017 general account (Bloom et al., 2018). Paid pensions for FY 2017 were nearly double the levels in 1990 and increasing as more baby boomers attain retirement age. Moreover, the government continues to pay more benefits than reciprocated contributions—a situation that is especially taxing to the exchequer and the taxpayers.
Japan faces a great threat to its population brought by its rapidly aging population. Increased divorce, late marriages, higher levels of education, women’s foray into the labor market, and the aging baby boomer population are among the reasons for the country’s declining population. Unemployment, increased dependency ratios, high health, and pension costs are among the social problems that come with the aging population. It is important for Japan to implement programs that will turn the tide into their favor, otherwise, the country risks losing more than just its position as the third largest economy in the world.
Bloom, D. et al. (2018). Japan’s Age Wave: Challenges and Solutions. Vox. Retrieved from https://voxeu.org/article/japan-s-age-wave-challenges-and-solutions
Horlacher, D. E. (2002). Aging in Japan: Causes and Consequences Part I: Demographic Issues. Laxenburg: International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
Kudo, S., Mutisya, E., & Nagao, M. (2015). Population Aging: An Emerging Research Agenda for Sustainable Development. Soc. Sci., 4(4), 940-966. Retrieved from https://www.mdpi.com/2076-0760/4/4/940/htm.
Usman, M. & Tomimoto, I. (2013). The aging population of Japan: Causes, expected challenges, and few possible recommendations. Research Journal of Recent Sciences, 2(11), 1-4