Health and Healthcare Systems

Japan has 68,000 people over 100 years old - and the economy can't keep up

An elderly woman pushes a walking aid as she walks on a street at Tokyo's Sugamo district, an area popular among the Japanese elderly, in Tokyo January 14, 2015. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet approved on Wednesday a record $812 billion budget for the coming fiscal year while cutting new borrowing for a third straight year in a bid to balance growth and fiscal reform. The largest budget item, social welfare spending, will rise 1 trillion yen to a record 31.53 trillion yen.  REUTERS/Toru Hanai (JAPAN - Tags: SOCIETY BUSINESS POLITICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - GM1EB1E15IG01

With more than 65,000 centenarians last year, Japan's ageing population could lead to a severe economic downturn. Image: REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Chris Weller
Ideas Reporter, Business Insider
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New data from Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare shows that the country has broken its record for the number of people living past their 100th birthday.

The new total stands at 67,824, The Asahi Shimbun reports.

Centenarians, as demographers call them, are marvels in the medical-science world. But in Japan, widespread longevity has become a burden on the economy.

The country has the highest proportion of people over 65. That, coupled with falling birth rates, has left the dwindling pool of young people struggling to cover the costs related to an aging population.

Image: World Health Organization

Within the past few years, Japan has lost trillions in gross domestic product and experienced a population decline of nearly 1 million. If the country's demographics continue to shift in this way, experts forecast a severe economic downturn and a breakdown in the fabric of social life.

"This is death to the family," Mary Brinton, a Harvard sociologist, recently told Business Insider.

Japan's centenarian population has been rising each year since 1971, when there were just 339 centenarians.

Last year, government data showed that there were more than 65,000 centenarians. This year marks the 47th consecutive year the country of 127 million has broken its own record.

The US still holds the record for the total number of centenarians, but that is primarily because of its larger population. Despite have nearly three times as many people as Japan, the US has a per capita rate of centenarians that's less than half of Japan's. Even in absolute numbers, Japan is only a few thousand people away from having the most centenarians. Demographic trends suggest Japan is bound to claim the top spot sooner rather than later.

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The world population is aging, and Pew Research data analyses have predicted that the number of people at least 100 years old — 450,000 as of 2015 — will increase eightfold by 2050, eclipsing 3.6 million.

Japan holds its seniors in high regard. Since 1963, it has recognized September 15 as Respect for the Aged Day. For those who have their 100th birthday in the calendar year, the government on that day awards them a silver-plated sake dish and a letter congratulating them on the achievement.

Until 2016, recipients received a dish made from real silver. But after paying $2.1 million for dishes to give to 29,000 people in 2014, the government decided to swap the real thing out for a cheaper alternative.

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Health and Healthcare SystemsEconomic Growth
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