According to the latest figures provided by the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs, Japan has never been older. Indeed, it is probably the oldest nation in recorded history. The latest astonishing figure is that the proportion of the population aged 70 and over is nearly 21 per cent. Over one in five Japanese people are now aged 70 or over! This increase in the number of those aged 70 and over is due to the continuing effects of the baby boomers born after the Second World War. In the last year, the number of Japanese in that age bracket increased by one million people, to 26.18 million. The number of those aged 65 and over (a group traditionally regarded as in the “old age” category) is now at 35.57 million, or 28.1% of the entire population.
This ageing population is a problem for the government of Prime Minister Abe, which is trying to grow the economy. An ageing population means fewer workers and taxpayers and a larger burden on social security programmes. Abe, in the middle of a leadership tussle in his own party, is planning to expand employment opportunities for older Japanese. Currently, Japanese companies are required to let employees stay on until they reach the age of 65. Abe has said that he wants to let people working beyond the age of 65 and will ask businesses to allow people to stay employed until the age of 70. Currently over 12 per cent of the workforce (8.07 million people) is made up of those aged 65 and over. This proportion has increased each of the last six years.
Another potential governmental proposal suggested by Abe is to introduce an option for people to delay receiving the pension past 65 and in return receiving a larger pension once one decides to start collecting. Potentially more contentiously are proposals to expand work opportunities for immigrants. A new, more flexible work permit category is expected to be put into place next April. This is designed to bring more foreigners into understaffed sectors like construction, farming and nursing care. Companies, especially those outside of the major cities and of smaller size are facing a worsening labour shortage. This is a real bottleneck for further growth. Whether Abe will be successful in bringing in any of these proposals and whether they will be in any way successful remains to be seen. All we can say at the moment is that Japan is a rapidly ageing country, unique in so many ways in history.