Japan’s population has shrunk for the third year running, with the elderly making up a quarter of the total for the first time, government data showed Tuesday.
The number of people in the world’s third-largest economy dropped by 0.17 percent or 217,000 people, to 127,298,000 as of last Oct. 1, the data said. This figure includes long-staying foreigners.
The number of people aged 65 or over rose by 1.1 million to 31.9 million, accounting for 25.1 percent of the population, it said.
With its low birthrate and long life expectancy, Japan is rapidly graying and already has one of the world’s highest proportions of elderly people.
The aging population is a headache for policymakers who are faced with trying to ensure an ever-dwindling pool of workers can pay for the growing number of pensioners.
The country has very little immigration. Any suggestion of opening its borders to young workers who could help plug the population gap provokes strong reactions among the public.
The proportion of people aged 65 or over is forecast to reach nearly 40 percent of the population in 2060, the government has warned.
Meanwhile, the country’s main working population aged 15 to 64 fell below 80 million as of Oct. 1, for the first time in 32 years due to the country’s rapidly aging society, according to the government data.
Of the total, the workforce stood at 79,010,000, down 1,165,000.
The decline in the major workforce is due to the growing number of people in Japan’s baby-boom generation who have turned 65.
Analysts said the latest estimate have sparked concerns that current wage-earners will have to shoulder additional burdens in paying for the swelling social security costs for the graying population.
A reduced workforce is also feared to weaken the economy, they said.
The number of people aged 65 and older came to 31,898,000, an increase of 1,105,000, accounting for 25.1 percent of the total population, according to the estimate.
The proportion of people aged 14 or younger dropped to a record low of 12.9 percent.
The number of deaths over the one-year period from October 2012 exceeded the number of births, seeing the total population of Japanese fall by 0.2 percent to 125,704,000.
The number of foreign nationals saw the first increase in five years, as more foreigners entered the country than left it.