社説:超高齢社会 「肩車型」の常識を疑え

May 05, 2012(Mainichi Japan)
Editorial: Aging society does not necessarily spell doom
社説:超高齢社会 「肩車型」の常識を疑え

Longevity is something to be celebrated, but when it comes to the aging of Japanese society, it is often discussed in a pessimistic tone.

One reason for this is the continuing decline in people of working age. Learning that our society is shifting from one in which four working people financially support one senior citizen, to another in which each working person must support one senior citizen -- a so-called "piggyback" setup -- would make anyone anxious. And indeed, that is exactly what is happening.

This unfolding state of affairs has prompted calls to raise Japan's tax and insurance rates, which are some of the lowest among all industrialized nations around the world. But perhaps because Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and other officials lack the rhetoric to persuade the public of the validity of their policy, the push to establish a full-fledged piggyback arrangement appears to be undermining confidence in the country's social security system.

It would be ironic if the number of people signing up with the national pension or health insurance plans were to shrink as a result.

So let us take a closer look at why piggyback systems spur pessimism.
現役の負担は増えない ここは世の「肩車型=悲観論」の常識を疑ってみようではないか。

Accepting the premise that the ratio of working-age citizens (people aged 15 to 64) to senior citizens (those aged 65 and over) will eventually become one to one, the important thing when evaluating the stability of the social security system is the ratio between those in the work force earning money, and those who are being supported.

It's not just senior citizens that the working population supports.

It was common for families to have and therefore provide for many children in the era immediately after World War II, but the number of children per household has been in decline more recently.

Those who required financial support in the past also included housewives, the disabled, and those who were ill, but today, there are more two-income households than single-income households, and the employment of the disabled is on the rise.

Moreover, there are far more people working past the age of 65 today than there were before.

Shut-ins and NEETs (people "not in education, employment, or training") undoubtedly do exist, but even taking such populations into account, the ratio between those who do the supporting and those who receive support has barely changed over the past few decades.

If senior citizens and housewives continue to work outside the home, thereby expanding the population providing for those who need support, the burden on the working population should not increase.

The theory that social security costs will surge at a rate of 1 trillion yen per year as Japanese society continues to age, widening intergenerational economic gaps, also calls for closer analysis.

During a time when it was common for three generations of families to live together, caring for elderly parents and children was considered the work of the wife, while the husband was expected to earn money for all household expenses.

As nuclear families and single-person households become the norm and the number of children drops, the burden of caring for elderly family members and bringing up children becomes relatively light.

If elderly parents are able to live on social security and personal savings, the financial burden on the working generation is alleviated.

Of course, there are many senior citizens who receive a low level of social security benefits or none at all, and there is no end to the number of people who leave their jobs to focus on caring for their aging parents.

However, compared to a time when neither social security nor nursing care insurance was available, the burden on working citizens has not become categorically worse.

Rather, inheritance per capita has risen, and people generally have more opportunities and funds to receive an education.

In other words, the impression people commonly have of the piggyback arrangement, and the actual generational gap in burdens are very different.

Rising social security costs may pose great pressure on government finances, but if the increased costs are translated into better nursing care and childcare services, it could lighten the load on families in the working generation.

One of the intended functions of the social security system is to collect a larger proportion of taxes and insurance premiums from high-income workers, and redistribute it to those with lower incomes.

What's important is not just whether the costs are expanding, but whether the funds are being redistributed effectively.

There is a group, sometimes called the "platinum generation," whose age makes them "senior citizens" but are actually a part of the population that give the piggyback rides.
プラチナ世代に注目 「支える側」で特に注目すべきなのは元気な高齢層だ。

Among those who turned 65 this year are pro-baseball team Rakuten Eagles' manager Senichi Hoshino and the comedian and film director Takeshi Kitano.

They're full of life and are highly unlikely to go into retirement anytime soon.

Readers must also know many people who are 65 or older who one wouldn't think to describe as "elderly."

In a story on post-war Japanese medicine and insurance last year, the British medical journal The Lancet wrote about the "platinum generation" -- called so because while its members technically fit into the "silver generation," they are shiny and bright instead of dull like oxidized silver.
Japan must recognize not only that our people are living long lives, but also that our country has produced a large population of energetic seniors.

It is not rare to see former businessmen and researchers in the sciences finding success in areas such as social welfare and farming after retiring from their original jobs.  ビジネスマンや理系研究者が定年後、福祉や農業などの分野に転身し成功している例は今や珍しくない。

We would like senior citizens to break bravely into uncharted fields, making use of the abundant knowledge and experience they've accumulated over the years.

It is at the intersection of various values that we can hope to find clues that will pave the way to a new era.

To fully harness the skills and talents of the platinum generation, medical and welfare systems must change.

With old age, most people develop illnesses and disabilities.

We must make a quick shift from our current acute medical model concentrating on curing patients, to a medical and nursing care model that allows people to continue working and living with purpose while living with chronic ailments.

Once the platinum generation comes to account for a much larger proportion of those who provide support to those who need it, our nation will look very different.

Excessive pessimism is uncalled for.

Let us think about how we ourselves can continue to give piggybacks as long as possible.

毎日新聞 2012年05月05日 02時30分

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