It’s not just Japan: Aging populations threaten several leading economies

Sep 18, 2023, 12:38pm EDT
Red Star’s Haruo Kiyoto, 80, catches his breath after the second half of the SFL (Soccer For Life) 80 League opening match in Tokyo, April 12, 2023
REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
East Asia
J.D. Capelouto/

For the first time in Japan’s history, people aged 80 and older now make up more than 10% of the country’s population, according to data released by the government Sunday.

The country’s rapidly aging population risks transforming Japan’s economy, and the same demographic trend could soon play out in other highly developed nations.

Japan, whose population is considered "super-aged" and the oldest in the world1 , is also suffering from low birth rates. Providing financial support for families to have children is a top priority, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in January, warning that Japan is “on the brink of not being able to maintain social functions.”2 Some analysts have proposed increasing immigration to bolster the country's working class population, but leaders appear hesitant to take those steps.3

It's not just Japan. Italy and Finland are just behind Japan in their share of elderly people. A recent New York Times report found that many of the world's leading economies — including much of Western Europe, China, and South Korea — will have old-age populations by 2050. Meanwhile, much of South and Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East will have more balanced workforces, leading to a possible reshaping of economic and geopolitical power.4

In China, one of several major Asian economies grappling with population decline, the city of Nantong offers a glimpse into the country's potential future. With 30% of the population over 60, it's China's oldest city. But many of the elderly residents still work in largely blue-collar fields. As a result, many of the city's schools have closed. The local pharmacies sell more adult diapers than children's diapers.5