27 October 2016
Thanks to medical advances and a healthy diet, many Japanese are fit as they reach 60. Photo: Bloomberg
Thanks to medical advances and a healthy diet, many Japanese are fit as they reach 60. Photo: Bloomberg

Land of the elderly: What Hong Kong can learn from Japan

Japanese are redefining the meaning of senior citizens.

According to a government survey released last week, as much as 41.1 percent of Japanese believe only those above 70 should be considered senior citizens. Some draw the line at 75, even 80.

Only 9.8 percent of the respondents agree that elderly citizens should be defined as those above 60.

In a similar survey more than 10 years ago, Japanese in general regarded 60 or above to be old and 55 or above is the right time to retire.

Such concept changes are in line with western trends, where there is a popular saying that “60 is the new 40”, thanks to improvements in nutrition and healthcare.

Japan has one of the world’s highest life expectancies due to its healthy diet and advanced medical care.

Ironically, that creates other problems.

Most Japanese would retire between 55 and 60 and that becomes a huge burden to the families and the country as a whole as this large group of retirees may live another 30 years with no income.

More Japanese workers now prefer to retire later after they reach 60 or even 65, which brings another problem — limited job vacancies and promotion opportunities for younger workers, made worse by a stagnant economy.

It’s reported that nearly a third of college graduates fail to find full-time jobs and they can hardly make ends meet with part-time jobs.

And many have to accept low-paying contract work.

The Abe administration is trying to find a way to harness the manpower of those in their fifties and sixties who are still physically and mentally fit.

The so-called “silver economy” is one of the areas Japan is keen to cultivate.

More spending by senior citizens is expected to boost the economy and overall consumption, thus creating more jobs.

The Japanese government is also encouraging young people to work in the elderly care industry, which would provide more jobs for the young and lower the cost of elderly care.

In certain ways, Hong Kong is faced with the same challenges — low birth rate, long life span and a rapidly aging population.

That is why we should study carefully how the Japanese are dealing with these issues and get prepared to learn from their experience.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 13

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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