The number of people aged 75 and older topped 10 million for the first time last year in another sign Japanese society is steadily aging, the government said Tuesday in an annual report.

The 2003 white paper also says the number of people aged 65 and over, considered senior citizens, stood at 23.63 million as of Oct. 1. That accounts for 18.5 percent of the total population, up from 18 percent the year before.

Of them, seniors aged 75 and older reached 14 million, it says.

The number of people 75 and older is expected to exceed that of the 65-to-74 group by 2020, the report says.

After Japan’s total population peaks in 2006, the graying of society is expected to advance rapidly with the ratio of older senior citizens rising, the report says.

It urges steady progress in introducing components of a 2001 legislative package, including extending the mandatory retirement age so that all those wishing to work can continue to do so until 65.

The report proposes diversifying job opportunities to meet the needs of senior citizens who have different health and other conditions.

As one example, the report says that to cut costs, a metal manufacturing plant in Gifu Prefecture hires seniors part time to run its operations mainly on weekends.

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