The current condition of Japan, the aging society vol.1

Japan Aging Research Center

Japan: The most aged society in the world

As of October 1, 2005, the total Japanese population was approximately 127.76 million, of which 26.82 million or 21.0% were aged 65 and over. In other words, Japan is the most aged society in the world. While Japanese population has been declining since 2005, the population aging will continue. The proportion of the elderly is expected to become 35 % and by 2040.

Japanese life expectancy at birth, healthy life expectancy

Japanese life expectancy at birth has grown constantly, from 50 years for males and 54 years for females in 1947 to 78.5 years for males and 85.5 years for females in 2005. According to WHO, Japan also has the highest health expectancy. As of 2002, it was 72.3 years for males and 77.7 years for females.

Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare announces Japanese life expectancy every year. The life expectancy at birth is the life expectancy at birth. Currently, the life expectancy at age 65 is 18.1 years for males and 23.2 years for females. Hence, those who are currently 65-year-old are expected to live for 83.1 years if they are males and 88.2 years if they are females. These numbers are higher than the life expectancy at birth (see Table 1).

Table 1: Life expectancies (2005)

Japanese centenarians

As of September 2006, there were 28,395 centenarians in Japan, 85% of whom were females. There were only 310 centenarians in 1970.

The arrival of the society with fewer children

 The number of child births has been declining since the second baby-boom. It was 2.09 million in 1973, but it declined to 1.06 million in 2005. The total fertility rate (the number of children each female is expected to have in her life time) has also declined to 1.25. This phenomenon is mainly due to the fact that younger people either postpone marriage or never marry. Only about 40% of females get married before the age 30.

Table 2: Total fertility rate (countries with per capita income of $10,000 and above)
Countries with high TFR(2004)Countries with low TFR(2004)
Netherlands1.73South Korea1.08
Reference:UN、Statistics Bureau in each country

Declining family size

 The number of people in each household had been approximately 5 until 1955. However, the census in 2005 shows that it is now 2.58. As for the households with the elderly, the number is 2.73 in 2005.

The current condition of Japan, the aging society vol.2

The growing number of the elderly living alone

 According to the Comprehensive survey of living condition of the people on health and welfare(2005), 18.53 million households (39.4% of the total households) contain those aged 65 and over, of whom 4.07 million (22.0%) live alone, 5.42 million (29.2%) live only with a spouse, and 3.95 million (21.3%) live in 3-generation families. The number of the elderly living alone has grown about 5 times in the last 30 years.

 According to the census data in 2005, the sex ratio (male: female) of the elderly living alone is 1:2.

Marital status among the elderly

 According to the 2005 census, 65.0% of females aged 65 to 74 and 29.1% of those aged 75 and over are married. On the other hand, 85.0% of males aged 65 to 74 and 76.1% of those aged 75 and over are married, much higher rates than females. These differences are mainly due to the age difference between husbands and wives as well as the sex difference in the average life expectancy.

Income, expenditure, and savings among the elderly

 According to the Comprehensive survey of living condition of the people on health and welfare (2004), the average annual income was 1.846 million yen among the elderly, or 188,000 yen less than the national average. About 70% of the income among the elderly comes from the public pension.

 The Family Income and Expenditure Survey (2005) shows that the elderly households mainly spend their money on “others, such as wedding and funerals as well as personal expenditures (26.7%),” “foods (23.8%),””education and leisure (11.2%)” “transportation (9.4%),” “utilities (7.6%),” “housing (6.9%),” and “health care (6.7%).”

 The average saving among the elderly households is 25.04 million yen (2004 data). It is about 1.5 times as much as the national average of 16.92 million yen. Yet, 18.6% of the elderly households have 40 million yen or more in saving, which raises the average saving in this age group. If we look at the median saving among the elderly households, it is about 16 million yen. One should note that the average saving among Japanese people has been declining since the beginning of the 21st century.

Perceived financial status among the elderly

 According to the Comprehensive survey of living condition of the people on health and welfare (2005), the elderly households felt that their financial status was “very tight (20.9%),” “somewhat tight (33.8%),” “fair (40.1%),” and “good (5.2%).”

 The Cabinet Office’s survey of financial management of senior citizens(2002) shows that the elderly with financial difficulties are more likely to “spend less money (35.45),” and “withdraw their savings (27.1%)” rather than to “rely on children (26.4%).” As for the perceptions about savings for older ages, 34.1% of those aged 60 and over feel that they have enough money, 22.1% feel they are somewhat short, and 35.0% feel they need a lot more money.

Health status of the elderly: Quite good

 As the highest health expectancy shows, the health status of the Japanese elderly is quite good. The self perception of health status is also good. About 70% of those aged 65 and older and over 50% of those aged 85 and older say their health status is either good, somewhat good, or fair. This result may be associated with the elderly people’s efforts to maintain their health. According to JANCA’s study with the elderly who participate in social activities, 76.4% are careful about what they eat, 64.5% take periodic health check-up, and 63.3% exercise on a regular base.

Work and Ikigai

 It is internationally known that the proportion of the elderly in workforce is very high in Japan. Although the financial necessity is one of the reasons for this phenomenon, many Japanese people seem to be aware that working gives the rhythm in their lives, benefits their physical and psychological well-being, and gives satisfaction and Ikigai. Social activities, including working, among the elderly is essential in the aging society with fewer children, and we need to build a social environment to promote it.

Table 3: Proportions of those aged 60 and over in workforce (%)
2004 dataAged 60-64Aged 65+
South Korea6543.441.422.2
Italy (2003 data)31.710.35.91.6
Netherlands (2003 data)31.915.46.22.1
*Aged 65-74 Reference:ILO

The current condition of Japan, the aging society vol.3

Desirable retirement age

 According to studies with retirees, the desirable retirement ages are “around 65 (over 30%),” “around 70 (over 20%),” and “as long as they can work (over 35%).” However, most of the companies set a retirement age at age 60, and those aged over 60 and continue to work are normally rehired.

The national government revised the Law concerning Stabilization of Employment of Older Persons in 2004, trying to raise the retirement age gradually to 65 by 2013.

The growth of retirees

 As of 2006, there are approximately 36 million people aged 60 and over. It is about 28% of the total Japanese population. Among those 36 million people, about 12 million people work either full time or part time and additional 6 to 7 million people need care. However, we know little about the social conditions of the rest of them, who comprise more than half of those aged 60 and over. We should also note that many of these people are retirees and their spouses and pension recipients.

Volunteer activities among the elderly

 Because employment conditions are quite difficult among the elderly, a growing number of the elderly are involved in community and volunteer activities to obtain Ikigai (self-fulfillment) rather than for financial reasons. Social environments (e.g., the earthquakes in Hanshin and Chuetsu, International Year of Older Persons in 1999, International Year of Volunteers in 2001, and NPO law which was enacted in 2000) may have contributed to this growth.

Population aging is a global issue

 The elderly population is growing not only in developed countries but also around the world. The United Nations sponsored 2 World Assemblies on Aging. The first one, which was held in 1982, had participants from 126 countries, and the second one in 2002 had about 9,000 participants who represented governments, NGOs, international organizations, and academic institutions from 160 countries. Based on the UN 5 principles for older persons (independence, self-fulfillment, participation, care, and dignity), this meeting also made a recommendation for the stronger partnership among governments, NGOs, corporations, local communities, families, and individuals.

Japan NGO Council on Ageing (JANCA)

 In response to the UN 5 principles for older persons, several aging-related organizations in Japan came together and established Japan NGO Council on Ageing (JANCA) in 1999, the International Year of Older Persons.

 JANCA has prepared “Charter for Older Persons” in 1999, which says “Older persons shall participate in social activities to stay independent and to attain self-fulfillment. This participation is essential to obtain dignity and care.” JANCA conducts various activities in order to build a society for all the generations. The recommendations for social security reform, which was submitted to the national government in 2001, was well received. As of 2006, JANCA has 58 member organizations, and its co-representatives are Tsutomu Hotta and Keiko Higuchi.

Savings for retirement

 According to the survey on living of senior citizens(2005)by the Cabinet Office, 60% of the elderly are either “satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their lives. Nonetheless, about 60% also have some concerns in their daily living.

Their concerns include “their own health (about 50%)” and “financial planning for retirement (about 50%).”

In order to reduce the level of these concerns, it is important to have knowledge about social programs such as health care, pension, long-term care, human right protection, and financial management.