Japan’s disdain for children is leading to callousness toward the elderly.
In response to the economic problems caused by the country’s aging population, Japan’s finance minister last month suggested the elderly should “hurry up and die.”
Taro Aso, who also serves as deputy prime minister, blamed the elderly for using up government funding for their medical care.
“Heaven forbid if you are forced to live on when you want to die," he said during a meeting of the national council on social security reforms. “I would wake up feeling increasingly bad knowing that [treatment] was all being paid for by the government. The problem won't be solved unless you let them hurry up and die."
Aso, who himself is 72 years old, told reporters he has written a note instructing his family to deny him end-of-life care because he doesn’t want or need it.
His flippant view of the value of life for the elderly is one effect of a crippling population unbalance that has made Japan the “greyest” country in the world, with a median age of 45. With the country’s focus on career and the deterioration of marriage, the national birthrate is less than 1.4 children per woman, far lower than the 2.1 replacement rate. At the same time, the Japanese have one of the world’s longest lifespans, meaning the population is shrinking while also shifting older.
Almost a quarter of the 128 million people in Japan are over 60, and that percentage is expected to raise to 40 percent by 2060. This has caused a great burden on the economy with fewer workers supporting more elderly people. Government officials decided to double the sales tax to 10 percent over the next few years to cover rising welfare costs: A record 2.14 million Japanese received welfare in October 2012.
The government also has tried to incentivize having children, with little success, by subsidizing daycare and giving money to couples with children. One professor created an online clock that counts down until Japan has no more children left, which is estimated to be 3012.
But Japanese women often delay marriage and don’t have children because employers aren’t friendly toward mothers. And as more people live in cities, the costs to raise children increases. Young couples living downtown are far from relatives, leaving them without support to raise children.
Yasuko Baba of Osaka’s Children and Youth Bureau said the government can only do so much to encourage childbearing.
“We can try to publicize the idea that having a child is a good experience, and work to create an environment in which women feel secure enough to have one,” Baba told the BBC. “But we can’t say ‘please have a child.’ Ultimately it is up to them.”