Japan turns silver into gold

Adapted from an article published in The Christian Science Monitor, September 21, 2016.

Last year the Japanese cosmetics maker Pola hired a woman over one hundred years old. The company already employs thousands of workers in their 80s and 90s. So recruiting a centenarian was no big deal. In fact, it fits right into Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s strategy for the world’s most rapidly aging nation. He wants to turn people’s silver years into gold for the economy. And to do so requires a rejection of old concepts about what it means to be old.

Mr. Abe was in New York in September with a message for other countries confronted by a graying population. “Japan may be aging. Japan may be losing its population. But these are incentives for us,” he said at a public forum. “Why? Because we will continue to be motivated to grow our productivity.”

Japan’s demographic challenge is regarded as a “silver tsunami.” New data shows 27.3 percent of the population is now over 65, a record high for the country and the highest among advanced economies. By 2037, seniors will make up 38 percent of a shrunken population. (By comparison, about 8 percent of the world’s population was over 65 in 2014.)

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