As the last of Japan’s baby boomers turn 65 this year and retire, many are taking low-paid or voluntary work to get them out of the house — a trend that could have broad-reaching effects.
The transition came later than expected as many workers from the cohort, born from 1947 to 1949, chose to remain in full-time work rather than retire when they turned 60.
In the city of Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, Hiroshi Ishida, 66, is teaching students at a private tutoring school how robots work. Until five years ago, Ishida was employed in the software development industry. After retiring, Ishida decided he should use his experience to help the younger generation.
Ishida began working at the school in January, under a special city program that is aimed at finding employment for the elderly. His classes have proven to be popular among the elementary school students, because the lessons that he delivers are “more interesting and easier to understand than school studies,” one of his students said.
Shinji Kurita, 66, started working as a child care provider for young children after retiring from a job as a TV writer. He acquired a child care certificate through training programs offered by a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization called Ai-Port Station.
Kurita now visits children’s homes five days a week, and says he takes great pleasure in receiving the children’s affection.
“It’s a pleasure that men rarely experience,” he said. “I realized how little time fathers spend with their children, just as I did, and how much of a burden mothers are forced to bear.”
He said it is a good idea to get senior citizens to take care of children who are around the same age as their own grandchildren.
Baby boomers are also active in volunteer work in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward. A local group of senior citizens has set up a voluntary body helping evacuees from the Tohoku region, in the wake of the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck in March 2011.
Yoshi Miyata, 65, has retired from a job as a secretary at a university hospital but is now teaching embroidery to the evacuees as part of efforts to rebuild their lives. She enjoys the classes in part because she can meet so many people, Miyata said.
A survey conducted by the Cabinet Office in 2012 showed nearly 70 percent of baby boomers are willing to engage in some kind of work. Around 25 percent said they hope to continue working as long as they are able.
Hiroko Akiyama, a specially appointed professor of gerontology at the University of Tokyo, said baby boomers are physically fitter than the previous generation. One study shows that compared with senior citizens in 1992, people of the same age group in 2002 can walk faster — at roughly the same speed as people a decade younger, Akiyama said.
The elderly “will become physically strong through engaging in work and can also broaden their network of contacts,” she said, adding that working seniors are expected to stay healthy longer.
Hiroyuki Murata, president of Murata Associates Inc., which organizes programs for elderly citizens, says the work that baby boomers are engaging in as seniors is starting to spur social change.
Since many baby boomers are good at computers, they can work at their own pace even after they become physically weak, he said.
“They can stimulate the economy by working as much as they can and by consuming, which will eventually create jobs for young people,” Murata explained. “Baby boomers may become seniors who can make such a contribution to society.”