As the rapid graying of Japan's population continues, a proposal has been made to redefine the "elderly" age to be in line with people's changing perceptions as to when their golden years begin. In the face of mushrooming social security costs in an aging society, the government plans to start making elderly people with incomes above certain levels shoulder a greater burden of their medical and nursing-care expenses. These moves may indeed reflect the improved health and changing lifestyles of today's senior citizens. But they also need to be accompanied by greater efforts to secure job opportunities and other services for people who can and are willing to remain active in their advanced years.

This year, the youngest members of the nation's postwar baby boomers will turn 70. People 65 or older — commonly defined as the elderly in Japan for more than five decades based on United Nations documents — now account for more than a quarter of the population. At the current pace of the aging of the population, it is estimated that 1 out of 3 people in this country will be in this age bracket in 2035 — and 1 out of 2.5 in 2060, at which point, according to another projection, 1 out of 4 people is forecast to be 75 or older.

With the fertility rate not significantly rising from its historic low, the working-age population between the ages of 15 and 64 is likely to continue falling, which coupled with the rising elderly population puts the sustainability of the social security system in doubt. Today, one elderly retiree is being supported by 2.1 working-age people — compared with the past when the social security expenses of one retiree was covered by 10 working-age people.