By William Wetherall
First drafted August 1997
First posted October 2002
Last updated January 2006
This is a draft of an article in progress.
Please to not cite without permission.
Japan's population is rapidly aging. The proportion that was elderly, or aged 65 and older rose from 5.7 percent in 1960 to 10.3 percent in 1985. By the year 2000 it will rise 16.3 percent, and it will peak about 23.6 percent around 2020. It will then fall, but only to 22.0 percent by 2085. Thus nearly one-fourth of Japan's future population will be elderly.
One measure of the economic burden of aging is the ratio of the relatively non-productive elderly population to the productive younger population. In 1985 there were 6.6 people aged 15-64 for every person 65 or older. By 2020 there will be only 2.5 people of working age for every retired person.
Demand for geriatric and funeral services will soar over the next forty years. The 65 and over population was 12.5 million in 1985, but it will more than double to 31.9 million by 2220. Some 750,000 people died in 1986, but this will treble to 2.25 million by 2025.
[Kosei hakusho 1986: 14, 192]
In principle, care for the aged will probably remain a family obligation. But the welfare burden will increase because the number of elderly people with illnesses requiring specialized treatment will greatly rise. State of health varies inversely with age, and so rates of illness and need for treatment increases with age. 51.2 percent of all people 65 and older were afflicted by illness in 1985, and 17.8 percent received treatment for illnesses in 1984. In the same year, 4.2 percent of the 65 and over population was confined to bed, and in 1980 some 4.6 percent were afflicted with senile dementia. But these proportions sharply rose to 15.6 percent and 23.4 percent for the 85 and age group.
Co-residency also rises with age group. 64.6 percent of all older people were residing with their children in 1985. A lower 55.7 percent of the 60-64 age group but a higher 83.0 percent of the 85 and over age group were residing with their children.
In 1985, there were 1.44 women for ever man aged 65 and over. 81.8 percent of the men but only 36.2 percent of the men had spouses, reflecting the tendency of men to be roughly five years older than the women they marry, and the fact that women can expect to live five years long than men. This means that the average woman will outlive her husband by about ten years. But the older the elderly age group, the greater the ratio of females to males. For the 85 and over population, women outnumber men 2 to 1.
The present welfare system provides for funeral expenses for destitute families. The basic allowance varies with body size and the welfare zone, from 83,300 yen for a child in zone three, to 119,000 yen for an adult in a zone one or two. The definition of child and adult is based on local precedent or custom. The basic allowance can be increased when funeral expenses and transportation costs exceed specified limits.
The allowance is granted for the funeral of a stillborn (4-month or older) fetus, but when a mayor makes the funeral arrangements for a person (such as a suicider) of unknown identity. The allowance will be granted when the local welfare commissioner personally makes the funeral arrangements for a deceased person of known identity, but not in cases in which the welfare commissioner sees to the funerals of unidentified suiciders at the request of the mayor. But payment may be made within limits deemed necessary upon application after a mayor sees to the burial of an unidentified suicider.
[Seikatsu hogo techo 1987: 182-185]