Japan has most elderly in world

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The Independent Online

Japan is expected within five years to have the world's highest percentage of people over the age of 65, a prospect causing the government and companies to offer bonuses and subsidies for couples to have more babies.

Japan is expected within five years to have the world's highest percentage of people over the age of 65, a prospect causing the government and companies to offer bonuses and subsidies for couples to have more babies.

The predictions were part of a government report Tuesday that said "the pace of aging in our country is progressing at an unprecedented speed."

The report said that by 2005 the percentage of Japanese aged 65 or older will reach 19.6, the world's highest.

In 15 years, the document said, Japan's population is expected to continue to gray with one in four Japanese over 65.

Japan now has 21.2 million people 65 or older, or 16.7 percent of the population - second after Sweden, which had a 65-or-older percentage of 17.6 five years ago.

Japan's twin trends of a falling birthrate and people living longer have caused anxiety because of the prospect of a shortfall of able-bodied workers and the financial strain on future generations of caring for the elderly.

Fewer people paying taxes and more people in their retirement years could pose problems for the treasury, officials fear.

The concerns have caused the government and private corporations that operate pension funds to take steps to encourage more people to have children.

Many companies are giving bonuses to employees who have babies.

The major toy maker Bandai began in March to offer a bonus of dlrs 9,350 to employees celebrating the birth of their third or more child. Bandai also provides a dlrs 187 gift for first and second children.

"Today, we hardly hear about a family having more than two children," said Tomomi Motosu, a spokeswoman for Bandai. "As a toy maker, we've always wanted to say children are very special. And we decided to start showing that within the company."

The government has earmarked dlrs 99 billion for the current fiscal year for projects to rejuvenate Japan's population.

A law taking effect next month will more than double the years parents with preschool children can receive government subsidies.

Parents now receive a monthly government allowance of dlrs 47 for their first and second child and dlrs 94 for every child thereafter until the children reach age 3. The revised law lets the allowances continue until the children reach 6.

But efforts to encourage couples to have more children have met with little success.

Japan's birthrate has fallen almost steadily since 1975 and in 1998, it hit the record low of 1.38 children per couple, among the world's lowest.

Japanese are also living longer. Life spans for women are the highest in the world at over 84 years.

Faced with the prospect that Japan's population will continue to age, the government has begun efforts to revamp the tax system, build a more effective infrastructure for people needing nursing care and to improve insurance coverage for the elderly.

Though opportunities for women in the workplace are still limited compared with men, more women are choosing careers over marriage and parenting.

In addition, the cost of education, lack of day-care centers and large homes in the cities discourage young couples from raising large families.

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