- The Washington Times - Monday, January 31, 2000

Senior citizens will need to be competitive and creative in the years ahead if the industrial world is to offset generational imbalances caused by low fertility rates and longer life spans, according to experts at a Washington, D.C., conference last week.
In the world's richest countries where fertility rates have been steadily declining and the large number of people born during the post-World War II baby boom is nearing retirement age the future will be societies where a substantial portion of the population is over 50. A recurring theme of the conference was how to sustain productivity when the labor force begins to dwindle.
The fastest-growing population segment in the industrial world is the elderly loosely defined as people 65 and older who now comprise 15 percent of its population. By 2030, the elderly will be one-fourth the population in developed countries.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies sponsored the two-day conference, which featured the top members of the Commission on Global Aging: Walter Mondale, former Democratic senator from Minnesota, vice president in the Carter administration then ambassador to Japan, and Ryutaro Hashimoto, a member of Japan's national Diet and former prime minister.
"For the first time since the Black Plague, more people will be leaving the labor force than entering it," Mr. Mondale said in opening the conference, highlighting a situation that will prevail in the societies of Europe, the United States and Japan as the 21st century advances.

Career definitions shift

Definitions of the labor force and the traditional retirement age will broaden in the coming century, experts said. Several of the speakers envisioned societies where workers may have two or three careers and will work much later into their lives.
With labor shortages expected to be especially acute in Europe and Japan, which sharply restrict immigration compared with the United States, raising the productivity of each worker is seen as the key to bridging the labor gap that will be left by decades of declining fertility rates.
"Increasing the productive potential of the population is the only way to deal with the situation," said Lucio Pench of the European Commission, the administrative branch of the European Union.
Extending the retirement age is a move that many countries hope will help fill the productivity void. People will be living longer because of advances in medicine and able to work into their 70s and perhaps their 80s. In Japan, where the population is expected to peak in 2007 and then decline for the foreseeable future, older workers are already beginning to filter into the work force.
Statistics on labor-force participation in the member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development the "rich men's club" of countries that dominate the world economy show that Japan has a high rate of employment relative to the United States and Europe and indicate that older Japanese are willing to work beyond the official retirement age.[

Market forces at work

Atsushi Seike, a professor of labor economics at Keio University in Japan, said encouraging the employment of older people is important.
"After the first decade of the 21st century, market forces will fully promote the employment of older people" in Japan, he said.
Female workers are another factor for boosting production, according to many experts, and their higher participation in the labor force will be integral to the economies of the industrial world.
The United States will be less affected by shortages in labor, in part because its fertility rate is not expected to decline as rapidly, but also because it can expect a steady stream of immigrants to keep production high. Europe and Japan, on the other hand, will face shortages if they continue to rely on their native labor force, speakers at the conference said.
Japan and Europe will have to let people into their territory, most likely from the developing world, or employ cheap labor overseas, again in the developing world.
"For the next 30 years, North Africa and the Middle East can help Europe and other Asian countries can help Japan," said Norbert Walter, chief economist for Deutsche Bank.
Some speakers discussed the graying of society in developed countries in its economic aspects, others from the social-welfare side.
Mr. Hashimoto, the former Japanese prime minister, said he is among the latter. "Personally, I have been committed to social-welfare issues in Japan for a lifetime," he said.

Fewer young Japanese

Japan, with fertility rates among the lowest in the world, faces perhaps the sharpest shortages of the industrial countries in terms of young people entering the labor force in the 21st century.
The number of workers under age 30 in Japan is expected to drop by 25 percent between 2000 and 2010. For the world's second-largest economy, maintaining productivity is a huge concern. Mr. Hashimoto believes the issue must be solved without harm to the elderly.
Calling the issue "Japan's aging challenge," Mr. Hashimoto seems determined to keep the issue in a positive light. He is working to create a Japan that allows older people to blend in and fit into the work force.
Already in Japan, where the life expectancy is the highest in the world 77 for men and 84 for women in 1998 some people are working part time well past 65.
In 1998, 16.2 percent of Japan's population was elderly. In 2025, 27.4 percent will be elderly.

Longevity: Boon or bane?

Mr. Hashimoto pointed to the cultural factors that affect how countries handle the graying of their populations.
Japan, heavily influenced by Confuciun ideals that stress the importance of the family and the dignity of the aged in particular, is the only developed country where most of elderly people still live with their children.
This close family connection is a strength of Japanese society, Mr. Hashimoto said. "We are a society blessed with longer life," he said. "I personally am convinced that this is an asset."
Mr. Hashimoto said the extension of life span predicted for all people in the industrial world will be good for business in Japan because it will open up new markets. New housing, products and services will come about "to cater to that segment of society," he said.
All the participants in last week's conference agreed that the graying of the industrial world will have far-reaching implications, and not just for the developed world. Developing countries such as Taiwan, North and South Korea, and Singapore, are not far behind. They will face the same situation in the middle of this century.
As the developed world becomes a place more and more populated by older people, whole economies will be flipped upside down, the family structure will be altered, even the geopolitical order of the world will be influenced.
"Unlike many predictions about the future, global aging is no mere hypothesis," wrote Sylvester Schieber in "Global Aging," a brochure summarizing the issues for the conference published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a financial and personnel management consulting firm.
"Its approximate timing and magnitude are already locked in. It is a revolution sure to happen and when it has run its course, nothing will be the same," Mr. Schieber wrote.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide