Japan’s Aging Population: a Descriptive Study

2 February 2017

Many developed countries are facing the problem of an increasing aging population. Japan, being one, is not exempted from this continuously growing crisis. Peterson (1999), from the cover of his book Gray Dawn: How the Coming Age Wave Will Transform America and the World, already expressed his clamor for global awareness regarding this issue when he stated that, “There’s an iceberg dead ahead. It’s called global aging, and it threatens to bankrupt the great powers…

Now is the time to ring the alarm bell. In Europe, the aging population was brought about by a combination of low fertility rates and high life expectancies. Japan has been experiencing the same. This is brought about by a number of factors, including high and excellent education (considering that they are well-off countries), late marriage, and small living spaces (considering that Japan is a small country and is largely surrounded by water). “From the 1700s till the 1850s, the population of Japan remained steady at about 30 million.It just started to grow when Japan pursued modernization during the Meiji Restoration in 1868. In more recent years, the annual pace of population growth slowed down averaging about one percent from the 1960s till the 70s.

Japan’s Aging Population: a Descriptive Study Essay Example

In 2009 population estimate was 127. 51 million, down by 183,000 from the year before” (Statistics Bureau, 2010). From this short data, it can be seen how Japan’s population has drastically declined. What is worse is that, this problem is seen to progress further at a serious pace.This paper is significant in present-day study, because (a) solving the problem of the aging population may be a key solution for Japan to regain its status as the world’s second largest economy, (b) awareness in this problem may save the race of the Japanese from possible extinction in the next two millennia, and (c) advancing this kind of research problem and presenting possible solutions may also pave way for countries, including Japan, that are experiencing similar problems to open their eyes to accepting and reconsidering policy resolutions that they do not currently approve of.Having these in mind, this paper wishes to contend the following points: first, to present how the graying of the population of Japan poses a huge threat to the economic and social stability of Japan as a mono-national state; second, to examine the effectiveness of the policies of the government of Japan on the problem of an aging population beginning from the 1980s, as this issue began to be mportant in the first half of this decade, till present; lastly, to present possible solutions that are plausible enough to address this problem. The author theorizes in this paper that “if Japan will not welcome new and possibly more effective policies, the Japanese race is likely to be extinct in the next 1, 500 to 2,000 years, and Japan, as a nation, would just vanish in thin air.

Facing the problem of an aging population is one of the greatest challenges that confront Japan in the contemporary era. Many authors have tried to discuss how this aging society, if not to be solved soon, may lead to Japan’s downfall. However, I would like to emphasize some of the insufficiencies in their study, so that this paper will be able to serve the purpose of having it made and possibly contribute to the needs of the Japanese society. According to a study by Gavrilov and Heuveline (2003), A direct consequence of the ongoing global fertility transition (decline) and of mortality decline at older ages, population aging is expected to be among the most prominent global demographic trends of the 21stcentury. Population aging is progressing rapidly in many industrialized countries, but those developing countries whose fertility declines began relatively early also are experiencing rapid increases in their proportion of elderly people.This pattern is expected to continue over the next few decades, eventually affecting the entire world. ” Indeed, the world is starting to feel the onset of global aging, but since I am focusing on a smaller scale, i.

e. , the Japanese society, rather than on a global level, I would emphasize Japan in this paper, since next to China, it is the second largest economy in Asia and the world, and a decline in its economic performance will affect not only itself as an economic power, but the international market as well.Focusing on Japan, Atsushi (2006) discussed in his article, “Readying Society for an Old-Aged Workforce”, how the demographic shift toward fewer young people, and more elderly to the Japanese population is bound to transform employment radically. He used a comparison among young and old people in the Japanese population through the following graph: Fig. 1: Population Statistics of Japan 2001/2002 He discussed how this factor is bound to affect the economy at a great scale.Furthermore, he stated that “workers from the ages 20 to 59 will bear the burden of supporting the whole population, if the conventional retirement age of 60 continues to be applied”. He furthered by saying: “If today’s workers are in their mid-fifties or younger, it will be natural for them to work until at least their mid-sixties.

” This will not be a big deal for Japanese since they are naturally workaholic, but I cannot deny the fact that a younger workforce will be able to contribute more to let the economy grow and progress.However, even if this is going to be advanced, “the period companies can guarantee jobs for can only grow shorter, and the chances of landing a position that offers lifetime employment are becoming slimmer” (Atsushi, 2006). More negative outcome of this graying of Japan is stated in the opening line of an article from Manila Bulletin entitled “Japan Tackles Aging Society” (2011): “Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Monday said the nation faces ”inevitable” tax increases to help offset the cost of a rapidly ageing society and its impact on the levels of public debt. In relation to this, Makino (2009) stated earlier that “No less than recently elected Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has expressed concern about the social and economic consequences of the trend: a growing pension and health care costs, lower saving and investment rates, and a shrinking work force. ” A number of negative consequences can be squeezed out of this inevitable event, and Japan has to welcome better and more effective policies. Some authors have discussed some policies already implemented by the government.Cardiosk (2008) discussed about the Angel Plan: “In 1994, Japan’s attempt to increase the national birth rate was the “Basic Direction of Measures in Support of Future Child Rearing” plan, more commonly known as the Angel Plan.

Its main aspects were to lessen the stresses associated with raising a child by creating an infrastructure that supports working parents, offering counselling services, and changing the attitude of a fixed male and female role to one of dual parenting and shared responsibilities over the course of ten years. ”   This is just one of the quite numerous policies that Japan had imposed to promote higher birth rates.Not every policy was successful, that the government had to revise or even stop implementing them. More of these policies will be discussed in the next part of this paper. TO MAKE OR TO BREAK: WHAT WILL JAPAN DO? (Main Body) As was stated above, this paper has three primary objectives. Before I properly proceed to the discussion of my objectives, I would like to define a primary factor that has led to the aging population of Japan, a growing average life expectancy and lower mortality rate. In 2006, Japan ranked fifth among countries with the highest life expectancy (82.

17%) next to Monaco, Macau, San Marino, and Andorra (CIA, USA).Fig. 2: Life Expectancies of Countries Around the World (2006) “Life expectancy is the increase in the number of elderly within a nation’s population and the socioeconomic changes that comes with such growth” (Kodansha Encyclopedia of Japan, 1983). In Japan, this high rate of life expectancy can be contributed to a number of factors which include peace and stability inside the country (having no wars at all), an improved diet, and advances in medical treatments and drugs (Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia I, 1986). Japanese really like to eat fresh food, and ensure that they get the best quality of food to take in.They also drink green tea which is a good antioxidant and body cleanser. It is impossible for Japan, being an advanced country, to stop improving, to stop enhancing its food, and to halt advancing in the field of medical achievements.

However, this improvement goes hand in hand with educational attainment, which usually leads to late marriage, and fuels the tendency of having a growing aging population. It is important for Japan to enhance and improve the intellectual production capacity of each of its citizen to maintain the vitality of the country.Below is a graph showing how the society is hugely composed of elders, in this case comprising 21% of the total population are people 60 and above. The ratio of people 15 or younger in the total population was the world’s lowest, at 13. 6 percent, surpassing Bulgaria’s 13. 8 percent. Fig.

3: Japan’s Population Based on Age Group Elders are considered “dependents” to the society, adding up to kids 14 and below, because they cannot be employed by companies and firms anymore, therefore making them unable to sustain themselves (since these businesses would want to hire younger and more able workers).Moreover, they do not contribute to giving and providing profit to the country, since they do not participate in economic activities anymore. By 2025 the dependency ratio (the ratio of people under age 15 plus those 65 and older to those age 15–65, indicating in a general way the ratio of the dependent population to the working population) was expected to be two dependents for every three workers. Because of this, several negative effects can be extracted from this phenomenon. First would be the “forced” extension of the mandatory retirement age.As the rate of the aging population goes up, companies would have no choice but to extend the mandatory retirement age. During post-World War II, workers had to retire at the age of 55.

However, this has been raised to 60 by many companies, due to employee shortage. In 2004, the government required the companies to, again, gradually raise the retirement age by 2013 (A Look at Pension Plans Worldwide, 2005). Second would be the necessity of revising welfare programs aimed at the elderly. However, as Japan is currently facing a huge debt, increases in these programs are not practical and applicable.One example would be the healthcare expenses for the aged. As the elderly increase, healthcare expenses will increase as well. Because of this, the Diet had to draft a bill that would require elderly patients to bear a part of the expenses for their own healthcare.

To be able to provide more funds for the elderly, the government must cut its expenditures. This may not be easy since the politicians need to please their constituencies with jobs and money. However, if it is already the welfare of the country and its citizens that we are talking about, then personal interests might as well be set aside first.Third would be quite related to the second one which is the changes in the pension system. This takes up a lot of Japan’s funds, since they would have to support more and more pension recipients as the number of the aged increases. This would be an addition to the government spending. In 2007, the government planned on increasing its pension contribution from 37% to 50% by last year.

This would quite burden the other members of the populace since the Ministry of Finance may just put an increase in the sales tax. Furthermore, this means that here would be an additional cost to the government, but this quite leaves it with no choice since it is the aging society that is predominant in the society. Other effects would include limitation of economic growth due to workforce reduction and decrease in consumption. Japan may also incur more international debts since the rate of savings would diminish. Indirect effects would include deterioration of educational environment and deterioration of economic infrastructure, since more funds will be provided for the social security expenditure.The government has already implemented several policies which were both effective and ineffective. The Angel Plan was already discussed in the second part of this paper.

This plan was unsuccessful, since it was not able to improve the fertility rate. Even after it was revised and renamed “The New Angel Plan”, it did nothing to slow down the declining birth rate. It was not able to meet its goal which was to encourage the Japanese population to have more children. Fig. 4: Births and Total Fertility Rate, Japan, 1947-2002One reason as to why the Angel Plan failed was due to the simultaneous implementation of another policy, this time a policy caring for the elderly, in 1994 called The Gold Plan. This policy had actually started in 1990, but it was during 1994 when it reached its peak. The Gold Plan, or the Ten-Year Strategy on Health and Welfare for the Aged, was to be a major shift from long-term institutionalized care in hospitals and nursing homes to home programs and community-based rehabilitation facilities (Ihara, n.

d. ).This plan was supported since it gave and provided more benefits to the elderly to be achieved within a particular period. Another policy implemented by the government was the New-New Angel Plan. This focused on (1) Independence of youths, (2) Support for work and family, (3) Importance of life and family, and (4) Further support for child rearing. “The New-New Angel Plan has shifted to a policy of placing greater emphasis on community and corporate activities, and cites specific numerical targets even for corporate programs.The aim is to raise the rate of corporate workers’ acquisition of annual pay leave to at least 55% (the rate for FY2003 was 47%), and to increase the percentage of corporations that include childcare leave systems in their employment regulations to 100% (the share for FY2002 was 61%)… … Moreover, to encourage middle and high school students to perceive childcare as an enjoyable, fun-filled experience, the Plan will offer opportunities for these young people to come into contact with infants and toddlers at daycare and other facilities.

New ideas are also being incorporated, such as setting up bases for community childcare support/assistance” (2005). I think that this plan reflected the crisis of the Ministry in implementing plans, since the Ministry quite relied on the past policies, which could just not put an end to the decline of the younger population. They are now calling on society as a whole to carry out more measures. Based on the present situation, this new policy still seems unsuccessful. Japan’s population does not seem so “improved” until now. Minor policies were also implemented.There had been medical and financial support for infertility, reform in education system (to mold the youth regarding the importance of child bearing), a cut in the waste in long-term public investment by local government, support for mothers staying at home, and even affordable dating services.

The policies thought of by Japan are just too simple for them to deal with that no effects, whether it be long-term or immediate, are being felt. Maybe, drastic ones should be taken into consideration by the Japanese, regardless of their norms, if they still want to continue growing economically.The downside is they would have to “sacrifice” many of their social traditions, which would be quite difficult. But as what I have always believed in, “Desperate times call for desperate measures. ” They would not want to be extinct, would they? First would be to provide an equal treatment for children born out of wedlock. Japanese are such perfectionists and idealists that they tend to discriminate. Women would not want to risk seeing their children totally discriminated against if they are not legally married to their man.

Since they are known for being risk-averse, in any aspect, they would just not marry and have kids AT ALL.Countries, like Scandinavia and France, have adopted this approach and were able to improve their fertility rates (Noboru, 1999). For Japan, it is still a huge question mark. Second would be that Japan legalize that abortion be not permitted. Many Japanese women just abort their fetuses. This may not be against their religious beliefs, but this would at least help restrain the population decline. Third, Japan may try opening its doors to other nationalities for migration and eventually let them join the workforce.

The Japanese are not against interracial marriage.However, they do not approve of it as well. They have deeply-rooted love for homogeneity. If Japan would not even accept and try these methods, it is highly likely that the Japanese population continue to decline (esp. if its decreasing rate would remain as it is now or even grow). According to Noboru (1999), it is possible that in 800 years, a baseball stadium would be enough to contain the remaining 50,000 Japanese. I agree with him.

Given the very discriminating society that Japan has, there is no doubt that if they do not apply any of these, they would be extinct in a millennium or two.CONCLUSION The aging population is one of the most important social issues being faced by Japan from the 1980s until the present time. This has several negative effects that might lead to the downfall of the Japanese society. Because of this, the Diet had to devise policies that would raise the fertility rates of the people. However, I conclude that not even a single policy had been effective enough to encourage people to have more children. For if even one policy was, the Japanese would have somehow felt a sigh of relief from this crisis.So I suggest that Japan resort to “desperate” measures if they still want their race to witness and experience the offers of the future.

Due to the limited time frame and the limited resources available, the data and information gathered and analyzed by the author in this paper are relatively not enough. Hence, the author recommends future studies to discover how possible it is for the Japanese come up with more effective policies to fight the aging population.

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