The proportion of people age 65 and older in Japan reached the world’s highest at 21 percent in 2005, surpassing Italy’s 20 percent, the government said Friday in a preliminary report.

At the same time, the percentage of people under 15 in the total population hit the world’s lowest at 13.6 percent, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said.

For both men and women, the percentage of unmarried people went up in all groups age 20 to 64, the report says.

The preliminary figures were obtained by tallying 1 percent of survey samples collected from every village, town or city.

The report underscores the steady aging of Japanese society with its shrinking child population. It is also the first time the percentage of elderly topped the 20 percent threshold.

In 1960, 30.2 percent of the population was under age 15, while only 5.7 percent were age 65 or older.

According to the preliminary report, of Japan’s total population of 127.76 million, the elderly account for 26.82 million, up 3.7 percentage points from the previous census in 2000.

On the other hand, the number of people under age 15 decreased 1 percentage point from the previous census to the record low 13.6 percent.

By prefecture, Akita has the highest proportion of elderly, at 28.1 percent, followed by Shimane at 28 percent and Kochi at 27.1 percent.

Saitama had the lowest proportion of elderly, at 16.9 percent, followed by Kanagawa, at 17.3 percent, and Okinawa, at 17.4 percent.

Since the previous census, the proportion of elderly increased in all 47 prefectures, with Nara seeing the largest rise, of 5 percentage points.

Meanwhile, the number of elderly living alone totaled 4.05 million, topping the 4 million mark for the first time since the census began in 1920. The average number of family members per household also hit a record low 2.6.

The proportion of unmarried women was 59.9 percent in the age 25-29 bracket, up 5.9 percentage points from the previous census, showing that roughly three out of five women in this bracket are unmarried. The proportion was 32.6 percent among those age 30 to 34.

The proportion of unmarried men was 47.7 percent among the age 30-34 bracket, up 4.8 percentage points, and 30.9 percent among 35- to 39-year-olds, up 5.2 points.

Observers say Japan needs to redesign national pension and health insurance programs according to the changing population structure. Because the current system depends on revenues from the working generation, many do not trust the system and refuse to pay premiums.

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