Sunday, January 15, 2006

Japanese elderly

Japan now has one of the fastest-growing aging populations in any world society, with a projected increase of its 65 age group from 10 percent of its population in 1985 to 16.5 percent in the year 2005 (the comparable change during these years for the United States is from about 12 percent to about 14 percent). The life expectancy for Japanese men is about 75 years, and the average woman lives to about 80 (for the United States the comparable figures are about 73 years for men and 78 years for women). The relative longevity of the Japanese is attributed to their low-cholesterol diets rather than to heredity or lifestyle factors.
Though no one has yet attributed the longevity of the Japanese to their lifetime work patterns, these also differ from those of Americans and Europeans. In 1980 (the last date when worldwide statistics were compiled by the United Nations), Japanese women were somewhat more likely than European and American women to remain at work after age 65-about 20 percent of Japanese females were still working after that age compared to less than 10 percent in Europe and the United States. For Japanese men, 46 percent remained at work past 65 compared to 18 percent of American men and less than 10 percent of the Europeans. Today these figures remain approximately the same for Europe; however, the overall percentage of both sexes in American working past age 65 has dropped to about 10 percent compared to the 40 percent who remain at work in Japan.
Some people have attributed the unusually long work life of the Japanese to their national customs that stress intense commitment to their jobs. A more likely explanation is that pensions available to many Japanese are insufficient at age 65 to support retirement. Japan is one of the few industrialized nations that does not have a government sponsored retirement pension program. Instead, Japanese individuals and companies are obliged by law to create pension savings plans, but this apparently does not lead to lifelong saving rates that provide sufficient retirement income for many Japanese workers. A new proposal made by Japan's Bureau of Planning in the Science and Technology Agency calls for a multilevel scheme for assisting Japan's burgeoning older population. It involves guaranteed incomes, the formation of special health and medical services, creation of "lifelong" study programs, and guaranteed housing for Japan's seniors.
By tradition the elderly in Japan live with their children, but this practice has started to decline in recent years. Some might think that this change reflects a decline of filial devotion or a growing generation gap in Japan, but the major cause is the improvement of pensions, which now provide enough income to allow more older people to maintain their own separate residences.
U.S. Bureau of the Census. An Aging World. International Population Reports Series P-95. No. 78. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1987.
Yates, R. E. "Japan Has No Room to Be Old," in Aging. Goldstein, E. C., ed. Vol. 3, Art. 16. Boca Raton, Fl.: Social Issues Resource Series, Inc., 1981.


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