Japan Hits a Gray Milestone

Nation clocks in with more than 10% of population over age 80 for first time
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 19, 2023 1:30 PM CDT
Japan Hits a Gray Milestone
Kane Tanaka, then 116 years old, reacts after receiving a Guinness World Records certificate, background, at her nursing home in Fukuoka, Japan on March 9, 2019.   (Takuto Kaneko/Kyodo News via AP, File)

It is very, very common knowledge that the median age of Japan's population is, well, not associated with the term "spring chicken." With what the BBC reports is the planet's oldest population—the yardstick there being the percentage of people 65 or older, of which Japan counts nearly a third of its people, at 29.1%—the Land of the Rising Sun has now notched a new milestone: For the first time, more than 10% of its population is now over 80. There's a combination of factors at work here, including an infamously low birth rate and some pretty good longevity, but they make up for a few more startling and/or troubling stats, also via the Japan Times:

  • The big picture: Japan's total population is about 124.6 million, with about 36.2 million clocking in over age 65.
  • That percentage of those 65 or older? For comparison, the next highest countries in the world are Italy at 24.5% and Finland at 23.6%.
  • Elderly in the workforce: Japan's economy currently runs on a workforce made up of 13.6% who are aged 65 or more, and about 25.2% of that population is employed (though about three-quarters of those are part-time or contract workers). That might be little surprise: The nation's longest-ruling emperor abdicated in 2019—at age 85.
  • About that birthrate: It was 800,000 babies in 2022—the lowest since records began in the 1800s, and noticeably short of the average 2 million in the 1970s. Steps to pump that number up haven't seen results.
  • The imbalance isn't helpful: With so many elderly, Japan is spending buckets of money on social security; with so few young, there's a shortage of people to take care of those in their golden years, putting a further strain on the system and resulting in many seniors living alone.
(Read more Japanese elderly stories.)

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