Some 45 per cent of Japan’s households now include one person aged 65 years or more, government figures show, underlining how swiftly the country is moving towards a costly demographic inflection point.
The quickening advance towards a crossover point that will change the country’s economic landscape and the companies serving it, comes with a shrinking dependency ratio. By 2060, there will be 1.3 Japanese of working age (15-64) for every person over 65, according to a government white paper on ageing.
Japan is at the forefront of a rich world trend in which fewer workers support more seniors. Germany, for example, faces a dependency ratio of 1.5-1.6 by 2060, according to its Federal Statistical Office, as fertility rates decline and people live longer. But the near absence of immigration makes Japan’s case more stark.
The combined pressures of fewer workers and the ballooning demands of elderly care pose a further threat to the growth stimulus policies championed by Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, who is aiming to put 1.17m more people into the workforce by 2020.
Demographics are already frustrating this ambition. About 100,000 people a year quit their jobs to care for an elderly or sick relative, according to government data. The figure is set to expand dramatically as the 1946-47 baby boomers move into the ranks of the elderly.
But for millions, the would-be recipients of their care are already close at hand. Of Japan’s 50.1m households, 44.7 per cent include at least one person over the age of 65. Most are homes with one elderly couple, but the fastest-growing group is households with one elderly inhabitant and an unmarried child.
Charles Horioka, a professor at the Asian Growth Research Institute, said: “We are seeing a very dramatic change in the composition of the Japanese family and its living arrangements.
“The prime minister may want to reduce the number forced to quit their jobs to care for the elderly in this very tight labour market, but that is much easier said than done. It’s a serious problem,” he added.
The white paper also tracks a rapid rise in the number of people requiring long-term care, with a Cabinet Office survey suggesting that fewer than 45 per cent of people approaching retirement are confident of funding care costs from their pension and other income. The same survey, however, found that 76 per cent of over-65s were either “not worried” or “not much worried” about their current economic situation.
The government survey also charts what it describes as a “remarkable” increase in the number of elderly people living alone, whose proportion of the overall population of over-65s doubled between 1980 and 2010.
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