Japan May Solve Elderly Population Problem by Redefining “Elderly”

Japan May Solve Elderly Population Problem by Redefining “Elderly”

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Happy elderly people
Picture: プラナ / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
How do you solve the problem of a rapidly aging population? Japan's government has a novel answer: change what "elderly" means. PM Kishida's government is reportedly considering a proposal to raise the definition of old age from 65 to 70.

What happens when a government needs to look after a country that just recorded its lowest number of births and highest percentage of elders in the same year? That’s Japan. In 2023, a record low of 758,631 children were born while people over 65 made up 29.1% of the population.

The working-age demographic is shrinking. The government’s solution? Change the definition of what “elderly” means by extending it from age 65 to age 70.

Longer lifespan puts longer employment on the table

Picture: 阿部モノ / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Age is not just a number. How old you are defines your scope of rights in the eyes of government.

Japan redefined adulthood in 2022, lowering it from 20 to 18. Now, it’s floating the idea of redefining elderhood, raising it from 65 to 70.

On Thursday, the Council on Economic and Fiscal Policy panel heard the proposal to change the legal definition of elders by Chairperson of the Japan Business Federation Masakazu Tokura, BNP Paribas Chief Credit Analyst Mana Nakazora, Chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives Takeshi Niinami, and Economist Noriyuki Yanagawa.

The suggestion is in line with an increase in Japan’s average lifespan which has increased in both men and women. According to data by the Health Ministry, lifespan in men increased by 0.54 years in men and 0.59 years in women over a 3-year period. That raises the age of health to 72.68 and 75.38 respectively in 2019.

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Lifespan fell for two consecutive years in 2021 and 2022 during the global health crisis, bringing it down to 81.05 years for men and 87.09 years for women. Data for 2023 will come out this July.

With a greyer but healthier population, nongovernmental members of the panel also promoted reskilling for all generations. Setting forth a target of 1% economic growth after inflation, which many say is necessary to sustain Japan’s social security system, boosting the participation of women and elderly people is key, according to panel members.

Work until you die?

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who also partook in the meeting, said, “We must realize a society with a high level of well-being in which everyone can play an active role.”

Minister Yoshitaka Shindo, who’s charge of regional revitalization, also responded after the panel closed. “As Japan is facing population decline, I think it’s very important to create an environment in which people can thrive throughout their lifetime and foster more of such individuals,” Shindo said.

Officials’ pitch for lifelong participation in the workforce did not land well on some, according to street interviews with FNN.

“I think it’s ridiculous. Until what age are we expected to work? Eventually, that might be 70. And then 75 before we realize it. I’m worried about that,” a male in his 40s told reporters.

While anecdotal reactions opposing the redefining of elderhood received more air time, larger surveys suggest that raising the retirement age will receive widespread support. An opinion poll released by the Cabinet Office last March found that more than 40% of the working population want to work until they reach the age of 66 or higher.

Is redefinition catching up with reality?

Picture: EKAKI / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Already, employees 65 and above are not a rarity. 52% of the population between ages 65 and 69 were still employed in 2023, according to a study by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Not even the biggest companies can stay afloat without the old. Toyota will begin rehiring senior citizens starting this August. The largest multinational car manufacturer in the world is changing its policy that sets the retirement age at 65 so that employees across all divisions can continue working until they turn 70. The change comes as a response to plug labor shortages and retain experienced human resources who can teach new talent.

Online reactions

On social media, talent and television producer Dave Spector took to X on Friday to poke fun at the government for trying to push back the years of elderhood, snarking: “PM Kishida will consider 80 as the age cap for youth legislators.”

Followers joined in.

“[Breaking News] Prime Minister Kishida is considering raising the retirement age for LDP parliament members to 100,” one X user wrote.

Another joked of an anti-aging effect. “Does that mean I (in my 50s) am still underage?”

Others were reminded of just how arbitrary politics are. “This is redefinition on another level.”  

Sources

高齢者の定義「5歳引き上げ」を ウェルビーイング実現へ提言ー諮問会議. 時事ドットコムニュース

「10年後には高齢者=100歳になってそう」高齢者の定義65歳以上を70歳引き上げ…政府の諮問会議委員が提言しSNS紛糾. FNN

「高齢者の定義」5歳引き上げ検討に「80代までを青年代議士とすることを検討へ…」デーブ・スペクターはギャグでやゆ. 中日スポーツ

高齢者の定義「5歳引き上げ」に波紋 65歳から70歳へ議論始まる 街の人の声は….FNN

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