Ageing in Japan

Demographic warrior

Shinzo Abe outlines his plans to boost the workforce and trim spending on the elderly. But will they be enough?

“THE DECLINE of the birth rate and the ageing of Japanese society is accelerating at unprecedented speed,” warns Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister. Given the scale of the problem, he told The Economist last month, the government must push for “impactful policies” to tackle it right away. He mentions a series of reforms, intended to boost the workforce and reduce the cost of supporting the elderly. The Diet is currently debating a government proposal to admit 345,000 foreign workers over five years, for instance.

That sounds dramatic, but the demographic decline is even bigger. There are 400,000 more deaths than births each year. Life expectancy is 84 years—the highest in the world. Over 28% of the population is older than 65, compared with 21% in Germany, 15% in America and 6% in India. The country has 69,785 centenarians, a seven-fold increase on two decades ago.

The welfare state has become unaffordable. Public debt is 250% of GDP. And Japan is suffering from an acute labour shortage. There are already 1.6 jobs for every job-seeker, and…