Japan is home to the world's oldest population — and the world's oldest man

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Marco Werman: Japan has an aging population, the oldest population in the world. In fact, it’s now home to the world’s oldest man, Yasutaro Koide. He’s 112, which means he’s eligible for a silver sake dish. Japan gives this dish to its centenarians, but there are so many of them the country might not be able to afford it much longer, not to mention the costs of healthcare and social security. Naoko Muramatsu studies Japan’s aging population at the University of Illinois, Chicago.


Naoko Muramatsu: One in three people in Japan will be aged 65 and older in 2030, and you can feel that happening if you walk on the streets or if you look at the community. There used to be lots of large apartments filled with children playing around. Now you will see older people walking by, very quiet, and there are older people facilities everywhere.


Werman: Are we talking about a population that is aging well, or an aging population that is not being balanced by the arrival of new babies?


Muramatsu: Both. There are people who are doing well; the life expectancy in Japan is the highest in the world, and for women, you can live up to 90, on average. People try to eat well, try to do exercise well, and on TV programs you will hear lots of health promotions. But we already know that after the war, there was a very brief baby boom only for two years or so. Those people will be 65 or older in 2025. Now, these baby boomers have had a fewer number of children, so there are a fewer number of people supporting these older people.


Werman: What are the challenges this aging population creates for the Japanese government?


Muramatsu: Healthcare costs are really skyrocketing, and already the number of people in the household is getting lower and lower, and there are lots of people who are living alone. So, those people have to be supported and this is a very challenging situation. In 2000, Japan started a long-term care insurance. You start paying into the system at the age 40, and at the age of 65 you’re entitled to receive long-term care, home care, or nursing home care.


Werman: Naoko, I’m just curious, what’s your own personal connection to this subject? What got you involved in the research?


Muramatsu: Well, in Japan, the wife of the eldest son is supposed to be taking care of the older parents of the husband. That was tradition and, in fact, my mother was in that role. I was very much interested in the social norms and what is expected of women. These caregiving norms are quickly changing. And then I also have my older parents in Japan, and my father passed a couple of years ago. But during the process of my father’s disability and illness, I could actually experience how an older Japanese person could be in this healthcare. And it was interesting that, in Japan, cremation is the custom, and I couldn’t reserve a cremation facility for my father in the city that we live in.


Werman: It was that busy with people passing away?


Muramatsu: Yeah. So, that was my personal connection.


Werman: Naoko Muramatsu researches health and aging at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Thanks for speaking with us, really appreciate your time.


Muramatsu: Thank you very much.


Werman: This is The World.