The number of people aged 65 or older in Japan has topped those in the youngest age bracket for the first time since the national census was launched in 1920, the government said Friday in a preliminary report.

According to the 2000 census, there were 22.27 million people in the 65-and-over bracket, whereas those in the 14-and-under range totaled 18.45 million, the Public Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry said.

The total population came in at 126.92 million, of which those aged 65 and older accounted for 17.5 percent. In this regard, Japan ranks second among industrialized nations to Italy, whose equivalent figure is 18.2 percent, the ministry said.

The census is conducted every five years. The preliminary report is based on estimates calculated from an analysis of 1 percent of the results. Such extrapolations for previous censuses have proven highly accurate. The full report for the 2000 census will be released later.

The number of elderly people rose by 4.01 million from the previous census in 1995.

The number of people in the 14-and-under age bracket shrank, however, in each of the nation’s 47 prefectures, the ministry said.

Shimane Prefecture registered the highest proportion of elderly people at 25.7 percent, followed by Kochi, Akita, Yamagata and Tottori prefectures, all of which were at the 23 percent level.

Saitama Prefecture had the lowest proportion of elderly people at 12.9 percent, followed by Kanagawa Prefecture with 13.4 percent.

Chiba, Okinawa and Aichi prefectures also registered a low proportion of elderly people, with their figures in the 14 percent range.

The number of households that contained family members aged 65 or older was 15.26 million — up 19.4 percent from 1995 — out of a total of 46.38 million households nationwide.

There were 3.03 million households made up of a single elderly person, up 37.5 percent from the previous census. Of these, 2.32 million were women. This means that one in 5.6 women aged 65 or older lived alone at the time of the census, the ministry said.

Some 54 percent of women aged between 25 and 29 were unmarried, up 5.9 percent from the previous census.

The proportion of unmarried people rose in most age categories for women and in all age brackets for men.

The ministry also reported that the number of home caregivers totaled 142,000, a leap from 33,000 in 1995 and further evidence of Japan’s aging population, the ministry said.

The number of workers in welfare and nursing facilities also rose dramatically, to 340,000 from the 132,000 posted in the last report.

The number of working people aged 15 to 64 came to 86 million, a 1.3 percent drop from 1995 and the first decrease ever.

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