Symposium on Demographic Aging in Japan and Beyond: Lessons from the World’s Most Aged Society

Saturday, September 22, 2018 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Strasser Legacy Room, 220 Eggers Hall


Demographic aging is one of the major policy challenges that advanced industrial countries face today. Improvements in longevity and low fertility rates have dramatically changed the demographic structures of wealthy democracies.  Not only is the number of those older than 65 increasing, but the number of those older than 80 is on a rapid rise. At the same time, family size is shrinking, thereby reducing the ability of family members to look after one another.  How can individuals, families, communities and governments cope with this massive societal change?

Japan is an important country for studies of demographic aging as it is the most aged society in the world.  Japanese demographic aging provides us with a glimpse of our not-so-distant demographic future.  More than one in four residents in Japan are 65 years-old or older.  Japan’s median age was 46.38 in 2015—almost 10 years older than the US. What makes the Japanese experience even more astounding is its speed of aging. The shift in the demographic structure happened in a much shorter time in Japan than in the US or Northern European countries. Other East Asian countries are following the Japanese pattern. What explains this accelerated process of aging? Is it possible to offset or reverse the “aging” trends?  What can we learn from Japan’s demographic trajectory? These questions concern those of us living in the US as well. The US currently fares much better than Japan, but, as the baby boomers continue to age, any significant reductions in immigration or any drop in fertility rates could “super-age” the US as well.  

The experience of Japan, the “most aged” society, allows us to understand the causes and effects of demographic aging. Japan shows us what can or cannot slow down the demographic aging process: The slower the process, the easier it is to prepare for it.  Gender equality policies, work and family reconciliation policies, and pro-immigration policies are all known to alleviate demographic pressures.  These policies, however, require citizens' support and institutional adjustments.  On all these accounts, Japan has long lagged behind the other OECD countries.  However, the looming demographic crisis is also exerting a lot of pressures on Japan to change. The aim of this symposium is two-fold.  First, it seeks to understand the severity of Japan’s demographic problems and the adequacy of its responses. Second, it places Japan in a broader comparative context to understand the process of demographic aging and its consequences. 


10:00-10:30 am  Welcome and Introduction—Professors Gail Bulman and Brian Hurley, Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, Syracuse University

10:30-11:20 am  Sawako Shirahase, Professor of Sociology, Vice President, Tokyo University 

Presentation: “Persisting Gender Gap in the Most Aged Society Japan”

Japan is the first Asian society to have achieved industrialization in the 1960s; currently, however, it is the most aged society in the world. The percentage of those aged 65 years and older is 27.7 percent, according to the Statistics Bureau of Japan in 2017. Japan also has a high gender gap, particularly in the labor market. In this presentation, I discuss how the substantial gender gap has persisted, regardless of the drastic changes in the economic and demographic structures, which are almost similar to the U.S. and Europe. I will also present preliminary results of the two aspects of gender gap in the between- and within-families.

(Discussant: Professor Yingyi Ma, Sociology, Maxwell School, Syracuse University) 

11:20-12:10 pm  Mary C. Brinton, Reischauer Institute Professor of Sociology, Director of the Reischauer Institute, Harvard University

Presentation: "Japan’s Demographic Dilemma: A Comparative Perspective"

Japan has experienced birth rates below the population-replacement level for over a quarter-century. Other countries in East Asia and in Europe have since joined this trend, although social change and government policies have recently helped a number of countries experience some recovery. In Japan’s case, high gender inequality and a web of institutions that support gender-role specialization make it very difficult for women to balance work and family. Even with government policies to encourage childbearing, it is unlikely that the Japanese birth rate will increase unless gender equality improves.

(Discussant: Professor Yingyi Ma, Sociology, Maxwell School, Syracuse University)

12:10-1:20pm  Lunch Break

1:20-2:10 pm  Ito Peng, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Global Social Policy, Department of Sociology, and Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, University of Toronto 

Presentation: "Japanese Exceptionalism: Care and Migration Policy Challenges in Cultural and Historical Institutional Perspective"

Against the backdrop of population ageing, rising global demand for care and labour shortages, Japan seems to defy dominant East Asian (and global) patterns of increasing use of foreign migrant domestic and care workers by restraining its intake of foreign domestic and care workers to a minimum. Instead, it has opted to expand social care through the expansion of public childcare and the introduction of universal long-term care insurance, and has redoubled efforts to encourage native-born women and resident foreigners to work in the care sector. Why is Japan so seemingly resistant to accepting foreign domestic and care workers, and how sustainable is the current policy of minimum foreign worker intake? This talk explains Japanese immigration policy exceptionality from cultural, and historical institutional perspectives and discusses future challenges as the government tries to deal with the labor shortages while keeping immigration to the minimum.

(Discussant: Professor George Kallander, History, Maxwell School, Syracuse University)

2:10pm-3:00pm  Merril Silverstein, Marjorie Cantor Endowed Professor in Aging, Maxwell School and Falk College, Syracuse University

Presentation: “Filial Eldercare Norms in Japan and China: Intersections with Institutional and Community-Based Care”

This presentation examines how elder-care norms—expectations that adult children will provide for the needs of older adults—are sensitive to the development of formal care services in Japan and China.  By most measures, traditional forms of filial piety have weakened in both countries, as indicated by declining rates of intergenerational coresidence and increased use of formal services.  Nationally representative surveys of older adults in both countries are used to investigate how care preferences of older adults are associated with the growing availability of alternatives to family care. Given the development of long-term care policies in Japan, economic development in China, and smaller family size in both countries, results of several analyses reveal the consequences of defamilization and professionalization of eldercare, a trend which increasingly represents the preferred choice of older adults in each nation.

(Discussant: Professor George Kallander, History, Maxwell School, Syracuse University)

3:00-3:45pm  Roundtable Discussions with the Panelists

(Moderator: Professor Margarita Estévez-Abe, Political Science, Maxwell School, Syracuse University)

3:45pm-4:00pm  Closing Remarks -- Professor Margarita Estévez-Abe, Political Science, Maxwell School, Syracuse University

Co-sponsored by:

Japan Foundation

Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs

Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs

East Asia Program

Syracuse University Office of Research

College of Arts and Sciences

Aging Studies Institute

Center for European Studies

Languages, Literatures and Linguistics

Asian/Asian American Studies Program

Humanities Center

International Relations Program

Department of Political Science

Women’s and Gender Studies

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