Elderly Now Make Up One-Quarter of Japan’s Population

News & Views - April 18th, 2014

Japan recently hit a demographics milestone—one-fourth of its 127 million people is now 65 years or older—while its overall population declined for the third consecutive year.

For the first time ever, the elderly make up a quarter of Japan’s population, increasing by 1.1 million to a record 31.9 million as of last October 1, government data released on Tuesday showed.

Meanwhile, the total population dropped by 0.17 percent to 127,298,000, the data said. The figure includes long-staying foreigners.

With the country’s low birthrate and long life expectancy, the government is now facing an the grim prospects of an ever-dwindling labor force supporting Japan’s rapidly graying population.

The proportion of people of retirement age is forecast to reach nearly 40 percent of the population in 2060, the government has warned.

The working-age population, defined as those between 15 and 64 years old, fell to less than 80 million for the first time in 32 years, the Internal Affairs Ministry said in its report. Of the total, the workforce stood at 79,010,000, down 1,165,000, the data revealed.

The decline in major workforce is due to the growing number of postwar baby boomers heading into retirement, the ministry said.

“The problem of the low birthrate and aging population is getting more serious and the scale of the fall is remarkable,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

A reduced workforce is feared to bog down economic recovery, analysts said. Current wage-earners will have to shoulder additional burdens in paying for the swelling number of pensioners, and the government is looking to establish policies that will allow more women to enter the workforce.

“Given the circumstances, it is a matter of urgency to build a society where women can shine,” he said.

Japan is looking to open its tightly regulated borders to welcome skilled workers in a bid to help plug the population gap, but there is low public approval for such measures.

However, according to government data, the country did see an upsurge in the population of foreign nationals for the first time in five years.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: “An old tradition” by Aaron Shumaker/Flickr