One-fifth of Japanese population aged 65 or older in rapidly aging Japan

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TOKYO: The number of elderly in Japan hit a record high of more than 27 million in 2007, the government reported Tuesday, warning of an imminent pension crisis as the country rapidly ages.

The annual report by the Cabinet Office showed Japanese aged 65 or over making up 21.5 percent of the population last year, while the so-called “late-stage elderly” “” those 75 or older “” accounted for nearly 10 percent.

“We have become a full-fledged aged society,” the report declared.

“The pace of aging has reached the highest level (among advanced countries) at the beginning of the 21st century, and is expected to enter a phase that no other country in the world has yet experienced,” the study added.

Japan’s population peaked at just under 128 million in 2005 and began falling as fertility rates have dropped, while long life spans have boosted the elderly population. The government reported earlier this month that the number of children was at its lowest since 1908.

The report on Tuesday painted a dire picture of Japan in the 2050s: one-quarter of the total population of less than 90 million will be 75 or older, and 40 percent will be 65 or older. That compares with 16.2 percent projected for the world by the Untied Nations for those aged 65 or older in 2050.

On the upside, lives will continue to get longer, the study said. By 2050, Japanese women will live an average of about 90 years, while men will live nearly 84 years. That would be up from the present 86 years for women and 79 years for men.

The demographic shift from a declining birthrate and high life expectancies is expected to strain government services and lead to labor shortages, and those worries figured prominently in Tuesday’s report.

In 2005, it took pension premiums from 3.3 working people to cover the pension payout of one retiree, but by 2050, Japan will have only 1.3 workers to support a single elderly person, greatly burdening pension systems.

In order to ease the expanding woes, the government has stepped up programs such as those that promote elderly hiring.

The government is gradually extending the retirement age to 65 from 60, and is now urging companies a further extension to 70. Tokyo also introduced a new health insurance system in April to deal with bulging medical costs for people 75 or older.

More than 60 percent of Japanese senior citizens think they are healthy, but nearly the same percentage of them go to hospitals almost daily, the report said. The number of bedridden people has also surged, many of them cared for at home by elderly relatives.

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