In a historic demographic shift, Japan now finds itself confronting an unprecedented challenge as more than one in 10 of its citizens have reached the age of 80 or older, according to recent national data. With 29.1% of the country’s 125 million population now aged 65 or older, Japan has set a new record in the aging population category, reflecting the dire consequences of its declining birth rates.
Japan’s demographic landscape is characterized by a strikingly low birth rate, making it a harbinger of the global aging population crisis. The United Nations recognizes Japan as having the world’s oldest population when measured by the proportion of individuals aged 65 and older. Italy and Finland trail behind, with 24.5% and 23.6% of their populations in this age group, respectively.
According to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, the situation is expected to worsen in the coming decades. By the year 2040, those aged over 65 are projected to constitute a staggering 34.8% of Japan’s population. To address this demographic time bomb, Japan has adopted an unusual approach, maintaining one of the highest elderly employment rates among major economies, where workers aged 65 or older account for over 13% of the national workforce.
However, this initiative has not alleviated the burden on the country’s social security spending, leading to a record budget approval for the next fiscal year. The surge in social security costs is a clear indication of the severity of Japan’s demographic challenge.
Japan’s attempts to boost its birth rate have been met with limited success due to the exorbitant cost of living and the notoriously long working hours endured by its citizens. In 2022, the country recorded fewer than 800,000 births, marking the lowest number since record-keeping began in the 19th century. In contrast, during the 1970s, Japan experienced a baby boom, with annual births exceeding two million.
In January, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida acknowledged the gravity of the situation, stating that Japan is teetering on the brink of societal dysfunction due to its plummeting birth rate. Nevertheless, authorities remain reluctant to embrace migrant workers as a potential solution to the fertility crisis, even as other countries in Asia face similar demographic challenges.
China, for instance, reported a population decline in 2022 for the first time since 1961, highlighting the region’s shared demographic concerns. Meanwhile, South Korea grapples with the dubious distinction of having the lowest fertility rate in the world.
Japan’s demographic quandary serves as a sobering reminder of the urgent need for innovative solutions to address the complex challenges posed by rapidly aging populations worldwide. As the nation’s elderly population continues to grow, it remains to be seen how Japan will navigate this demographic crisis and secure a sustainable future for its citizens.