February 12, 2019 / 8:00 pm

Like a Franzia Wine: The Japanese Population Crisis

By Carter Cooley

First world countries enjoy the highest quality infrastructure, amenities, and degree of economic opportunity in the entire world, but what happens when progress starts to outpace human acclamation to progress?

The people of Japan enjoy the comforts and quality of life supported by an industrious economy and strong work ethic, but the stresses of outperforming in a society of high expectations have yielded one particularly disconcerting societal trend: a gradual constriction of the population. In 1997 the number of elderly eclipsed the number of children in Japan, and in 2014, sales of adult diapers surpassed those of baby diapers.

Currently, individuals aged 65 years and older make up just over a quarter of the total population, and if the current negative rate of population growth does not change it is predicted this demographic will account for roughly a third of the population by 2050 and an astonishing 40% of the population by 2060. Record low fertility rates coupled with the highest life expectancy of any country in the world has sandwiched Japan between a two-fold demographic time bomb which carries with it a host of social, economic, and political consequences.

One such effect is the tragic wave of elderly crime sweeping Japan.  An aging population has imposed unexpected pension and social security expenditures on the government, reducing the livability of the average pension check and forcing many elderly into poverty. Faced with the terrifying and often deadly prospect of homelessness, many of these impoverished individuals have turned to petty crime, preferring the security of being behind bars to the uncertainty of life on the streets.

While in 1997 just 1 in 20 crimes were committed by individuals aged 65 and up, twenty years later this statistic has quadrupled to 1 in 5. Moreover, a third of the senior citizens convicted of a crime in 2017 were recidivist offenders with at least 5 prior convictions. A BBC article from January 31st of this year reports that the overwhelming majority of crimes committed by the elderly are shoplifting offences of food totaling 20 USD or less, typically stolen from the supermarket they visit regularly. In the stalwart Japanese judicial system, petty offences are taken seriously and can easily land offenders up to a year in prison.

This is just one of many potential turmoils Japan will face in the coming years if this demographic trend persists, though the consequences down the road will be far more imposing than a simple shift in the diaper market.