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Older Japanese people are more willing to work but have fewer friends compared with those in other developed countries, according to a government survey.

The government released its Annual Report on the Aging Society on Friday, with results indicating Japanese people age 60 or older may be feeling more lonely than their counterparts in three other surveyed countries — the United States, Germany and Sweden — as the pandemic takes away opportunities to socialize.

Asked whether they had close friends other than their family members, 31.3% of the Japanese respondents said they did not. That compares with a ratio of 14.2%, 13.5% and 9.9% in the United States, Germany and Sweden, respectively.

Compared with the previous poll conducted five years ago, the figure for Japan increased 5.4 percentage points from 25.9%, hinting that more of the country’s older people may be facing social isolation.

The increased figure may stem from the pandemic, which has forced people to curtail social activities and spend more time at home.

The report urges the government to introduce measures that allow older people to participate in social activities while taking preventive steps against the coronavirus, suggesting the use of communication technology.

Older people outside a large-scale state-run COVID-19 vaccination center in Tokyo last week. | KYODO
Older people outside a large-scale state-run COVID-19 vaccination center in Tokyo last week. | KYODO

In February, the government set up an office in charge of dealing with isolation and loneliness issues, with regional revitalization minister Tetsushi Sakamoto overseeing related policies.

The survey was conducted from December 2020 through to January this year on 1,367, 1,006, 1,043 and 1,528 seniors age 60 or older in Japan, the U.S., Germany and Sweden, respectively. While the Japanese government publishes the report on its aging society annually, the international comparison is only carried out every five years.

Although the issue of isolation and loneliness is becoming more alarming in graying Japan, the report also shows that older people in Japan are more motivated to work, with 40.2% answering that they wanted to work or continue in their jobs.

In the U.S., Germany and Sweden, the rate of respondents who said they wanted to work or continue working came to 29.9%, 28.1% and 26.6%, respectively.

The report says that promoting flexible work styles, including telework, will be needed to allow more of Japan’s older people to stay in the workforce.

The employment rate of older people has been increasing over the past decade. Last year saw a record high 25.1% employment rate for people age 65 or older.

As of Oct. 1 last year, Japan’s population stood at 125.71 million, including 36.19 million people age 65 or older, or 28.8% of the country.

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