THE RAPIDLY GRAYING JAPAN:
Coping with an Aging Society Becomes Important National Policy
SEPTEMBER 19, 1996
Share of Elderly Doubles in Quarter Century
Japan's population continues to age. According to a Prime Minister's Office study, in 1995 there were 18.60 million people aged 65 or over, accounting for 14.8% of Japan's total population of 125.6 million. The share is 2.8 points above what it was five years earlier and twice the 1970 figure of 7.1%.
The figures were extrapolated from a sample of about 400,000 households covered in the 1995 national census (1% of the total). The study dealt with 11 items, including age distribution of the population and the state of the labor force. Children aged 14 and younger totaled only 19.96 million, or 15.9% of the general population. This is the first time that this age group failed to reach 20 million and provides further evidence of a declining birthrate.
Consequently, the population pyramid has developed two bulges, with one for the generation now in their late forties, born during the postwar baby boom, and one for their children, who are in their early twenties.
860,000 Elderly People Need Care
As society ages, the number of elderly households (consisting only of men over 65 and women over 60 or with the addition of unmarried children under age 18) has increased. A Ministry of Health and Welfare study shows that the number of such households had risen to 5.63 million in 1995, making up 13.8% of the national total of 40.77 million households. Individuals living alone accounted for 46.2% of elderly households, and elderly couples for 49.3%. The ratio of elderly households was 4.9% in 1975, meaning that the figure has almost tripled in two decades.
At the same time, the number of elderly people requiring care at home has reached 861,000. Of these, 284,000 are bedridden, and over half of them have been in the same state for three years or more. By age group, the highest share of those providing care for bedridden elderly persons are in their sixties (28.3%) and seventies (24.2%), indicating that there are many cases of elderly people caring for other elderly people.
Government Measures for an Aging Society
Japanese society seems certain to age even more rapidly in the future, making wide-ranging measures to deal with the situation important national policy goals. In addition to addressing issues like medical treatment, providing care, pensions, and employment, these measures must take into consideration the entire social system and the way it works.
At the beginning of July, the cabinet officially approved the outlines of a policy for dealing with the aging society. It indicates guidelines for integrated measures to prepare for an aging society.
First and foremost the outline calls for promoting continuing employment until age 65. With regard to a publicly run system of providing care, it indicates that active steps should be taken to create a new system providing care for the elderly using a social insurance method that has suitable public funding built into it.
Other measures include: the introduction of a system of reverse mortgaging that provides financing to elderly people, using their homes or other property as collateral; consideration of asset management support for those who are senile; the creation of housing and communities that eliminate steps and other physical obstructions in the living area; and the creation of a working environment that makes it easier to continue working while caring for elderly people or small children.
The government will keep watch over the implementation of policies in keeping with the outline, which it plans to review in about five years.