LONDON – Japan was rated eighth in a global ranking of the social and economic well-being of elderly people in a survey released Wednesday.
It lagged Switzerland, which topped the list, and a number of other European countries and Canada.
However, it came first in the health category of the Global AgeWatch Index 2015 — a criteria which contributed to its overall ranking.
Japan was the only country the report classified as “hyperaging,” with a third of its population over the age of 60. More than 60 countries are expected to have a similar demographic makeup by 2050.
The index, developed by London-based charity HelpAge International, looked at a range of indicators to measure the well-being of senior citizens in 96 countries, including physical and mental health, income security, engagement in education and employment, as well as accessibility and autonomy within communities.
It was the group’s third annual report, and represented 91 percent of the world’s population aged 60 and over.
Norway came second in the overall ranking, followed by Sweden, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands and Iceland. The United States ranked ninth and Afghanistan last.
The charity used internationally comparable data from sources such as the World Bank and the World Health Organization to compile the report.
Eduardo Klien, regional director of HelpAge International for East Asia and the Pacific, said Japan has “the honor and the privilege to be the most aged society in the world now.”
He pointed to the need to adapt very quickly to one of the most rapid demographic transformations in centuries.
The regional director said that while it is possible to boost the workforce through measures such as higher participation of women, migration, or raising the birthrate, it is difficult to reverse the trend of a declining and aging population.
“Japan will have 42 percent of the population over the age of 60 in 2050. That means you have to rethink what you produce, how you produce, the way you organize your society and economy,” he said. “I think that redefined society is in a way what countries like Japan are taking some steps toward.”
The report rates highly Tokyo’s policies, noting that, “In the 1960s, (Japan) adopted a comprehensive welfare policy, introduced universal health care, a universal social pension, and a plan for income redistribution, low unemployment rates and progressive taxation.
“This investment has paid off with a healthier labor force and increased longevity. As a result, Japan is not just the oldest, but also one of the healthiest and wealthiest countries in the world.”
Klien also said that Japan valued older people as contributors in society, and that technological innovation had allowed Japanese farmers to be the world’s oldest.
He said, “In terms of flexible retirement, working in old age, technological adaptations, I think Japan has a lot to share with other countries.”
However, Klien said he also felt there were other aspects where Japan could learn from Scandinavian countries, for example, which had a higher participation of women in the workforce.
The Global AgeWatch Index, launched in 2013, aims to measure and improve the quality of older people’s life and to help inform governments.