Asia Program

The Demographic Dilemma: Japan's Aging Society

John Creighton Campbell, Paul S. Hewitt, and Chikako Usui.

Japan is the most rapidly aging country in the world: By 2005, one-fifth of the population will be aged 65 years or older. Should the demographic dilemma be termed a "crisis," or is it a manageable problem for Japanese policy makers? The three contributors to this Special Report give very different answers. According to Paul Hewitt of the Global Aging Initiative Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the aging society is driving the Japanese economy toward collapse. A major economic crisis, with worldwide consequences, will be difficult to avoid, since negative trends are reinforcing each other. By constrast, John Creighton Campbell of the University of Michigan does not see aging as a major cause of Japan’s current slump or a necessary obstacle to future prosperity. The gradual nature of demographic change will allow Japan to adjust, Campbell maintains. Chikako Usui of the University of Missouri at St. Louis sees increased productivity as the key to Japan’s economic revitalization. By making the transition to a more effiicent, information-based economy, Japan will be able to use the skills of both young and old to weather the challenges of the coming decades.

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