The Elderly Population vol.1

The Elderly Population in Japan

The Elderly Population in Japan (as of September 15, 2003)

September 15th is “Respect-for-the-Aged Day”, a national holiday in Japan. The Statistics Bureau announces the estimate of the elderly population (those aged 65 and over) on this day every year. According to this Bureau announcement, there were 10.26 million men and 14.05 million women who were aged 65 and over as of September 15, 2003. The total number of the elderly was therefore 24.31 million, or 19.0% of the total population (127.69 million). Looking at the elderly population by age group, the numbers of the young-old (65-74 years) and the old-old (75 years and over) were 13.79 million and 10.53 million respectively. The sex ratio (males per 100 females) of the elderly population was 73, and the ratio among the old-old was 57.4 (Table1).

Table 1: The Elderly Population by Sex and Sex Ratio (2003)
Total population Elderly population (65 years and over)
65-74 years 75 years and over
(ten thousands)
Total 12,769 2,431 1,378 1,053
Male 6,234 1,026 641 384
Female 6,534 1,405 736 669
Percent of the total population Total 100.0 19.0 10.8 8.2
Male 100.0 16.5 10.3 6.2
Female 100.0 21.5 11.3 10.2
Sex ratio (males per 100 females) 95.4 73.0 87.1 57.4
Source: Statistics Bureau “Population Estimates.”
Note: The population data are rounded to the nearest ten thousands.
Source: Statistics Bureau “Population Estimates.”
Note: The population data are rounded to the nearest ten thousands.

The Japanese census has been conducted on October 1st almost every five years since 1920, except for 1945 when the World War II ended. According to the census data, the proportion of those aged 65 and over had been stable around 5% until 1955. The proportion started rising around 1960, and it grew to 7.06% in 1970 and 10.3% in 1985. The proportion grew even faster since then, to 14.1% in 1995, 17.3% in 2000, and 19.0% in 2003. The proportion is expected to be 26.0% by the year 2015. In other words, almost 1 in every 4 people will be aged 65 and over (Table 2).

The Japanese total population is expected to start declining after 2006.

Table 2: Proportions of the Elderly Population: 1920-2003
Total population
(ten thousands)
Percent of the elderly
65 years and over
65-74 years 75 years and over
1920 5,596 5.3 4.0 1.3
1930 6,445 4.8 3.4 1.4
1940 * 7,193 4.8 3.6 1.3
1950 8,320 4.9 3.7 1.3
1960 9,342 5.7 4.0 1.7
1970 10,372 7.1 4.9 2.1
1980 11,706 9.1 6.0 3.1
1990 12,361 12.1 7.2 4.8
2000 12,693 17.4 10.3 7.1
2003 12,769 19.0 10.8 8.2
Source: Statistics Bureau
*The estimated number of the military personnel who resided outside of Japan was subtracted from the census data by estimated age group.

The Elderly Population vol.2

Increases in Life Expectancy

As mentioned in our first report, a decline in fertility rates is a major factor contributing to the rapid population aging in Japan. In addition, the increase in life expectancy is another important factor.

According to the Statistics Bureau’s announcement on September 15, 2003, the number of people aged 100 and over (centenarians) was over 20,000, twice as many as in 1999, when the number reached 10,000. The life expectancy of Japanese people has increased consistently in the last half century. The average life expectancies were 77 years for males and 85 years for females in 2002 (Table 3).

Table 3: Life Expectancies in Japan: 1960-2002
Average life expectancies (years)
Male Female Sex difference
1960 65.32 70.19 4.87
1970 69.31 74.66 5.35
1980 73.35 78.76 5.41
1990 75.92 81.90 5.98
2000 77.72 84.60 6.88
2001 78.07 84.93 6.86
2002 78.32 85.23 6.91
Source: Statistics Bureau
1960-2000 data are based on complete life tables. 2001 and 2002 data are based on abridged life tables.

It is well-known that life expectancies are longer in Japan than in most other countries. A recent WHO report also shows that Japan has the longest health expectancy (73 years) in the world.

Because such longevity can increase pension and medical costs, it is said to be a burden for the struggling Japanese economy. However, the increase in life expectancy is a result of the improvement in social environment, such as economy, hygiene, peacekeeping, and security. Hence, as Hiroshi Yoshikawa (professor, University of Tokyo Department of Economics) points out, “A healthy long life is an index which shows the development of the human society.” Although the longer life should be celebrated, it is actually considered a social problem. It has been over 30 years since Japan became an “Aging Society,” and Japan has been an “Aged Society” for 10 years. Yet, the country is still segregated by age group, lacking social systems that unite older and younger generations. This lack of intergenerational solidarity seems to create the social problem.

The Elderly Population vol.3

Social Participation (Including Employment) among the Elderly

According to the labor force participation data (including employed and unemployed people) in 2002, about 4.87 million people aged 65 and over, or 20.7% of the elderly population (31.1% for males and 13.3% for females), were in the labor force. This figure is quite high compared with other countries like the United States (4.38 million or 13.3% of the elderly population) and the Great Britain (0.91 million or 8.7% of the elderly population).

However, the labor force participation rate among the Japanese elderly has been declining in recent years. Thirty years ago, it was 31.8%, about 10% higher than the current figure. Older males show particularly rapid declines, from 56.3% in 1965 to 37.0% in 1985 and 34.1% in 2000. Needless to say, the declining labor force participation is due not only to Japan’s ailing economy but also to the improved pension system.

In 1986, the United Nations Population Division (Director: J.C.Chasteland) and Japan Aging Research Center (JARC) jointly held a professional conference in Tokyo. The conference theme was “Economic and social implications of population aging.” The conference participants pointed out that the labor force participation rates were very high among the Japanese elderly, and they discussed its contributing factors. While the participants discussed the labor force participation by industry and the proportions of pension recipients among the elderly, the Japanese experts tried to explain the concept of ‘working as “Ikigai (aim of life, or life worth living).”‘ Some participants also jokingly called it the “economic animal” mentality. Under the “Ikigai” concept, which is quite common in East Asia, “work” is not just “labor.” Work can give the elderly senses of responsibilities and mission as well as rhythm in life, which they know are good for their physical and mental health. Some participants understood this explanation, but only the Chinese experts fully understood the concept of “Ikigai”, which could not be translated properly in English.

Now, the Japanese elderly, with a financial security through pension and other sources, are searching for their own “Ikigai”, which is difficult to understand. Their interest in volunteer activities at non-government organizations (NGOs) non-profit organizations (NPOs) has been growing in recent years.

In 2000, the legislation was enacted to make it easier to establish NPOs. The goal of this legislation is to promote civic actions. By the end of 2002, more than 10,000 NPO were established throughout the nation, and a number of the elderly are actively involved there.

Moreover, Japan NGO Council was established in 1998, a year before the International Year of Older Persons (1999), so that the elderly could systematically develop social activities. Based on the 5 keywords that were identified in United Nations Principles for Older Persons (“Independence”, “Self-fulfillment”, “Participation”, “Care”, and “Dignity”), the Council made the Charter of Older Persons in 1999, which include “Let’s participate in social activities for independence and self-fulfillment. As a result, caring and dignity can be obtained.” and “In the aged society, older persons’ social role is indispensable. Older persons shall make efforts to live with all the generations in harmony.”

The goal of the Council is integration of older persons in the society. In order to accomplish this goal, older persons need to be aware of the aged society and play active roles in the society. JARC has been playing administrative roles in relevant research efforts. We would like to introduce some of the activities in the near future.