Some population experts have referred to the increasing numbers of aging baby boomers as the "silver tsunami." Longer life spans combined with an unusually large over-60 population segment could be seen as a major problem for both our economy and health care system. But this is not merely a problem here in the U.S. In fact, Japan appears to be feeling the effects of this trend even more starkly than we are.
While 14.5 percent of the American population is over 65, that number in Japan is almost 27 percent. One of the reasons for this graying of Japan is that it has the world's second-highest life expectancy, 84 years. (Just in case you're curious, Monaco is No. 1 with 89.5 years, and the U.S. comes in at No. 42 with 79.8 years.) The country also has little immigration and a low birthrate. The number of births last year fell below the one million mark for the first time.
Japan's workforce is aging, and fewer employees are willing (or able) to quit working once they reach the country's accepted retirement age of 60 — even though they qualify for a state pension at age 61. According to OECD (a rich-country think tank), men in Japan actually retire when they're close to 70. Some experts have noted that certain segments of the employment landscape have turned into what are called "grey jobs." For example, Tokyo Gas, the country's largest supplier of residential natural gas, uses older workers to read meters or instruct homeowners about appliance usage. And according to government statistics, more than half of Japanese taxi drivers are over the age of 60. There's even an employment agency, Koreisha, that provides temporary jobs exclusively to workers over the age of 60.
And it's not just hourly workers in Japan who are extending their work lives. Hiromi Yamamuro, a sales rep for Sato Holdings, is 67 and has no plans to retire in the foreseeable future. Mikio Sasaki is a senior adviser at Mitsubishi Corporation, and at age 79 he still goes to work each day. Masamoto Yashiro, the chairman and CEO of Shinsei Bank, is 87. And the editor-in-chief of the newspaper with the biggest circulation in the world, the Yomiuri Shimbum, is 90. Even some airlines in Japan have petitioned the government to extend the mandatory retirement age for its pilots from 65 to 70.
While a shrinking labor force is seen by some as problematic, others are viewing it as a sign of profitable business opportunity. For example, adult diapers reportedly outsell baby diapers in Japan. In 2013, the market was said to be growing at nearly 10 percent per year and pulling in $1.5 billion. Since they sell for twice the amount of baby diapers — which means increased profitability — two major Japanese paper companies have begun expanding their manufacturing facilities to accommodate the expected growing market.
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: shell_ghostcage at Pixabay