Japan is one country that has the highest life expectancy in the world. Easily known by taking a quick glance at your surrounding in Japan. You can go groceries or get on the train or even walk down the busy street and meet so many old people in healthy and fresh conditions staying productive.
Now we are talking about data. In 1989, Japan’s life expectancy was 75,91 years for men and 81,77 years for women. While the average life expectancy in 2019 was 81,41 years for men and 87,45 years for women. Average life expectancy is the number of years a newborn in given years can expect to live, assuming the death rate for each year’s group will stay unchanged. Those annual figures collected by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare have set new records for eight years in a row for men and seventh consecutive record for women. Over the past three decades, the average lifespan has also increased by more than five years for both men and women. Compared with other countries, Japan continues to trail Hong Kong with women in second place and men in third place after Switzerland, unchanged from the previous year.
According to Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, cancer, heart disease, and strokes have been the major killer in Japan since 1981. But in 2018 the number has been decreased, which 27% of total death for cancer and followed by heart disease at 15%. The recent longevity of Japanese is due to the low mortality rate of these diseases. Actually, WHO also says that the age-adjusted mortality rates for cancer and heart disease are steadily decreasing in almost all countries.
This longevity in Japan can occur of course because of the trend of healthy living and adequate health facilities. Japanese mostly known with their dietary patterns, as characterized by low intake of red meat and highest intake of fish, seafood, plant foods, and non-sugar-sweetened beverages, which can be linked with the relatively low mortality from cancer and heart disease, followed by low prevalence of obesity.
While we are talking about how Japanese can live a long and healthy life, we should also remember that on the other side, Japan also has been experiencing the issue of population aging to an unprecedented degree. More than 28% of Japan’s population is over 65 years old, which is the highest proportion in the world (Airth, 2020). According to UN projections, Japan’s rural population is expected to plunge 17% in just 12 years, from 2018 through 2030. Furthermore, the decline will steepen with the population falling by 2% per year after 2030. While in the U.S. rural population will fall 7,4%, Germany with 7,3%, and Italy with 15% in the same 12 years period.
According to Horlacher and Mackellar (2003), projection of the declining population and the aging society has caused the Japanese Government to fear a loss of economic dynamism and face difficulties in financing workers’ pension and health facilities. The rapid aging process in Japan is striking because of the high rate of economic rate and changes in the social structures in the post-war period. While at the same time, Japan’s fertility rate is declining because of several factors. A recent study done by Usman (2013), indicated that the reason behind the declining of Japan’s fertility rate is not the declined in demand for spouses and children, but more of the difficulties to fulfill the demand. The main reason is the economic insecurity of young generations which is raising a serious concern to support their family. Other reasons such as lifestyles-changing, unmarried people, and an increase in the women labor participation in private companies, along with strict rules combined with limited salaries are discouraging them for the children bearing tendency. Increasing life expectancy is another driving force behind the trend.
The main effect of aging is leaving a serious mark on Japan’s macroeconomy, especially the labor force and capital accumulation. Due to Japanese aging and shrinking population, there is an increased need to overcome the labor shortage problem. People will retire and leave their work when they start aging, while there are not enough young people in Japan to fill the blank position because of the decline in the fertility rate as well. If the condition continues, this will impact the level of production of Japan’s companies. If Japan can’t maintain its level of production, then it may subsequently lose its position as the third-largest economy in the world. Another impact is less opportunity in work promotion and workers’ morale damaged. That happened because the aging issue made untenable the seniority system among the labor force, in which wages increase in proportion to length of service. The labor shortage also worsens by the rising expenses associated with aging. More expenses needed, for example, caregiving needs for ill workers and extra medication and hospitalization for old people.
So now Japan is forced to face an economic challenge brought by the aging society. Japanese government under Shinzo Abe has set a goal to increase the fertility rate from 1,43% in 2017 to 1,8% in 2025. Also, pursue structural and labor reforms to increase the nation’s productivity despite the declining labor force supply. All that supported by increasing the effectiveness of health promotion programs to gains productive labor hours and output.
Airth, J. (2020, 30 March). What the Japanese Can Teach Us About Super Ageing Gracefully. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200327-what-the-japanese-can-teach-about-super-ageing-gracefully
Horlacher, D., E. & MacKellar, Landis. (2003). Population Ageing In Japan: Policy Lessons for South-East Asia. Asia-Pacific Development Journal 10(1), 97-122.
Usman, M., & Tomimoto, I. (2013). The Aging Population of Japan: Causes, Expected Challenges, and Few Possible Recommendations. Research Journal of Recent Sciences 2(11), 1-4.