Japanese people are living so long that the country’s definition of ‘elderly’ could change

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misao okawa

Misao Okawa, Japan’s
oldest woman, lived past her 117th birthday.

Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

Japan is redefining aging — literally.

Members of the Japanese Gerontological Society, a group of
medical doctors and university professors, have proposed changing
the threshold for “elderly” status from 65 years old to 75 given
the country’s widespread longevity, NHK World
reports
.

Census figures from 2015 show
26.7% of Japan’s population
is 65 years or older. At the
current pace, estimates suggest the proportion will rise to 33%
by 2035 and 40% by 2060.

Economists have
expressed concern
over the widespread aging because younger
generations aren’t having children like they used to. With fewer
young people to cover greater social-security costs, people are
taking on larger individual shares, limiting their personal
spending.

Redefining “elders” as those over 75 instead of 65 would keep
more older Japanese people in the workforce. Employees who
normally would have retired in great physical shape would remain
to contribute to the labor force, and hopefully boost the
economy.

The Japanese seem to agree with the proposal.

According to the Japan Times, a recent
survey
conducted by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry
found 20% of people thought old age began at 65, while 41.1% —
the largest chunk — said it began at 70. Just 16% said it starts
at 75, however.

A separate survey of people 60 or older found 70% of respondents
said they’d be willing to work past 65. Japan Times even reports
that 2015 marked the 12th straight year in which the portion of
senior citizens in the workforce had risen. There are now an
estimated 7.3 million work seniors, who make up 11% of all
employees.

Given the widespread understanding that Japanese folks live a
long time, plus the ingrained culture of work, the proposal
seems like a natural shift in how aging is characterized.

“The question is whether the changes will be matched by
systematic reforms to enable those elderly people who are willing
to continue working to do so,” Japan Times states in a recent
editorial, adding that those reforms include mandatory retirement
ages and understanding that not every senior citizen can
necessarily keep working.

In those cases, Japan may fill gaps in labor
with ageless employees
 — or, as they’re more
commonly known, robots.

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