Two senior citizens walking with a rack and a stick in Japan

Japan’s Super Ageing Society

Japan’s Super Ageing Society

Japan's Super Ageing Society

Japan is a super-aging society. The population that is over 65 years old is 36 million strong as of 2020, which is 28.7% of the Japanese population. This is the highest number in the world, and Japan is closely followed by Italy (23.3%). The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications released this number on September 20, 2020, which is the day before Senior Citizen Day, a national holiday in Japan.

Why Do Japanese People Live Long?

The main reason for the aging society in Japan is, of course, the long average life expectancy. Japanese people’s life expectancy is one of the highest in the world. It is 81.41 years for men, which is the third in the world after Hong Kong and Switzerland, and 87.45 years for women, which is second in the world after Hong Kong.

Why do Japanese people live so long? One factor may be the Japanese food culture. Japanese food is often very healthy. We eat meat nowadays, but until the end of feudal times in the mid-19th century, people in Japan actually didn’t eat meat. They only ate fish, vegetables, and rice. They started to eat meat when they reopened the country to foreigners after a period of relative isolation from other countries for 200 years. Nowadays, Japanese people still love fish and there are so many varieties of dishes that use mainly vegetables. Meat consumption is also a lot lower than in most western countries, as the amounts that are eaten are just smaller. You will also find that many restaurants serve small portions compared to what you are used to, especially if you compare the portion sizes to those in the US. It is believed that eating until you are about 80% full is good practice, as you will feel satisfied after a little while and don’t feel overly full. If you come to Japan, you will see fewer obese people than in most other countries.

The second factor that helps people live longer in Japan may be the highly advanced medical system and the universal health insurance system. People in Japan never have to put off a doctor’s visit because they can’t afford it, so there are many people who go to the doctor quite regularly also with only light complaints as it will not hurt them in their wallet. If you visit a doctor in Japan, need medicines, or need to go to the hospital, 70% of the medical fees are covered by health insurance. The remaining 30% of the bill has to be footed by the patient, however, this is usually not a very high amount because there is a lot of competition amongst clinics and hospitals as it is very popular in Japan to get a medical degree. The good news is also that if your total health care expenses in any given year go over 1000USD, you can subtract the rest from your tax bill.

Decreasing Birthrate

Another important factor for the aging society is the decrease in the birthrate. The number of newborn babies is declining rapidly year on year. In 2020, only 864,000 babies were born in Japan, which was the first time the number became less than 900,000. The main factors for this decline are the low marriage rate and low birthrate. The age to get married has been increasing year on year, and these days the average age to get married is over 30 for men and women. Also, the number of people who choose to stay single for their entire life is increasing.

There are several reasons for this change. Until about 30 years ago, both men and women were expected to get married by their mid-20s. Also, parents, relatives, or company bosses used to help singles with finding a partner and arrange a marriage for them in this way. Young people felt strong social pressure if they didn’t get married, and many used to get married just to satisfy their social environments. But in 2020, this is no longer the case. If a boss would put pressure on employees to get married, he may get sued for ‘marriage harassment’.

The birthrate in 2018 was 1.4 children per woman. It is said that the rate must be over 2.08 children per woman to maintain the population at the same level. Why do Japanese people have so few children? There are several reasons for this. First of all, it costs a lot to raise children in Japan. Especially those who are serious about their kids’ education will face huge expenses by the time the child reaches high school, and this is off-putting for many. The problem is compounded by the shortage of nurseries in large cities like Tokyo. Couples may hesitate to have a second child in this situation, especially if they are living in a small apartment.

Both the high life-expectancy and the low birthrate make the Japanese population graph shape look more and more like an inverted triangle, while the ‘normal’ society will have a graph that looks more like a regular triangle.

Pension Problem

While the population decrease might be good news for the environment, the speed at which this is happening and will happen in the near future will cause problems for the current generation of working people in the mid to long term.

Japan’s population decline means that the working population has been declining, which is not desirable for economic growth. Secondly, the pension system will start to fail in the future. A decreasing amount of young people will need to support an increasing amount of senior citizen retirees. This is going to mean that the government cannot keep paying the same amount of pension money to the retirees at that time. What will likely happen is that both the working population and retirees will suffer; the working people will need to pay more in pension fees, and the retirees will receive an even smaller amount of money every month.

Currently, retirees who have contributed the maximum amount to the government-sponsored retirement program collect around 7800USD per year in national pension. This is not enough to survive in most places in Japan, so most people also participate in a private pension scheme in order to supplement the national pension and have enough to live off. Those who were not able to do that often work part-time jobs past retirement age to supplement their income.

The government is trying to get ahead of big problems and they chose two solutions. One solution is raising the age to receive the national pension. It used to be 60, but it has recently become 65. The government also started to encourage people to wait with receiving payments until age 70. In order to stimulate people to choose this option, they are promising higher monthly payments for those who choose this option.

Another solution was to raise the consumption tax and use the increased revenue to support the pension system, but it didn’t work out well. The tax has been raised from 8% to 10% in 2019, but the increased amount ended up being used for other purposes.

The average pension amount is only about 56,000 yen (500 USD) per month, which is not enough at all. If you are a company employee, an employees’ pension plan is added, and the total amount will become about 145,000 yen (1,400 USD) per month. It is much higher than just the standard pension, but still not enough if you need to live only with a national pension. This is why many Japanese people believe that they need to have 30 million yen (300,000 USD) in savings when they retire.

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