Updated 4:02 AM EDT, Mon September 18, 2023
More than 10% of Japan’s population is now age 80 or older, the government said Monday, the latest worrying milestone in the rapidly graying country’s demographic crisis.
According to figures released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the proportion of Japan’s elderly, defined as age 65 and above, is also at a record high, comprising 29.1% of the population – the highest rate in the world.
The ministry released the figures to mark Respect for the Aged Day, a public holiday in the country, which also faces a plummeting birth rate and shrinking workforce that could impact funding for pensions and health care as demand from the aging population surges.
Japan’s population has been in steady decline since its economic boom of the 1980s, with a fertility rate of 1.3 – far below the 2.1 needed to maintain a stable population, in the absence of immigration. Deaths have outpaced births in Japan for more than a decade, posing a growing problem for leaders of the world’s third-largest economy.
The country also has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, contributing to the ballooning elderly population.
To cope with the growing labor shortage and in the hopes of reinvigorating a stalling economy, the Japanese government has encouraged more seniors and stay-at-home mothers to re-enter the workforce in the past decade.
To some extent, that messaging has worked: there are now a record 9.12 million elderly workers in Japan, a number that has grown for 19 consecutive years. Workers age 65 and up now make up more than 13% of the national workforce, the internal affairs ministry said Monday.
Japan’s elderly employment rate is among the highest across major economies, it added.
But even encouraging elderly workers isn’t enough to offset the social and economic impacts of the demographic crisis, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida warning in January that Japan is “on the brink of not being able to maintain social functions.”
He added that child-rearing support was the government’s “most important policy,” and solving the issue “simply cannot wait any longer.”
Nearby, China, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan are experiencing similar crises, struggling to encourage young people to have more children, in the face of rising living costs and social discontent.