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Dual Standout Statistics from 2020 Census: Rapid Increase in Foreigners and Single-Person Households

The makeup of families has changed drastically in Japan, and there are many policy implications and social service needs to consider as the trends continue.

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People walk on a street in a busy shopping district in Tokyo. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

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The 2020 census tally has been completed. The data show a dramatic increase in Japan’s foreign population, as well as single-person households (persons living alone).

Japanese society is already set to enter a period of drastic change as the population declines, these two factors are likely to make the transformation even more dramatic.


Foreigners Increase by 44% Compared to Previous Census

The increase in the foreign population is the first standout statistic. The number of foreigners in Japan increased 43% from the previous survey in 2015, by 834,607, to a record high of 2,747,137 people. 

Japanese school children.

A closer examination reveals that the increase was astonishingly nearly eight times that from the previous period, when an increase of 104,331 was recorded. The increase has been driven by the government’s active acceptance of foreign workers, a measure undertaken to help resolve Japan’s labor shortage.

Slowing Population Decline

The increasing number of foreign residents has had the effect of slowing the rate of decline in Japan’s overall population. This decline was 948,646, about 14,000 less than the previous census. 

Looking just at the native Japanese population, the decrease was 1,783,253, up 708,300 from the previous census. Nearly half of the decrease in the total Japanese population has been offset by the increase in foreigners.

The increase in the number of foreign residents amid Japan’s shrinking native population creates another issue. Currently, foreigners make up 2.2% of the total population, but the number of Japanese people will decrease sharply in the future. If the foreign population continues to increase at the pace of the past five years, this percentage will rapidly increase.

RELATED: Is Admitting More Foreign Workers the Only Economic Lifeline for Japan?

Foreign Population to Reach 12% in 2065

Foreign worker assisting elderly in Japan.

According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the “population derived from foreign countries,” which includes not just individuals from foreign countries but also naturalized citizens and international children (children with foreign parents), will be about 10.76 million people in 2065, or 12.2% of the total population. 

Of these, 16% are 0-19 years old and 17.9% are 20-44 years old. One in five to six young workers will fall in this category. 

If the foreign population also increases at the same time, there is no doubt that Japanese society will look quite different in the future. 

If a country like Japan, with its declining population, accepts foreigners on a large scale, sudden changes in its culture and the lifestyle of its citizens will result. The continued expansion of the number of foreigners allowed into the country without the understanding of the current population will increase tensions in many parts of society, and could lead to social divisions and misunderstanding.



Sharp Rise in Single-Person Households

Along with the increasing number of foreign residents, another glaring statistic from the census is the rapid rise in single-person households. The census this year tallied 21,151,042 such households, an increase of 14.8% from the previous census.

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Single-person households now account for 38.1% of total households, significantly larger than both the percentages of “households consisting of couples and children” (25.1%), “households with only couples” (20.1%), and “households consisting of single parents and children” (9.0%). 

While the number of single-person households increased sharply, the number of households with three or more residents decreased. The average number of individuals per household is now 2.21.

The makeup of families has changed drastically in Japan, and the country is becoming a society where one cannot rely on the support of their family.

Looking at single-person households by age, the largest group is men from 25 to 34 at 28.8%, 

Elderly in Japan

For women the largest group is the 75 to 84 year olds at 26%, with another 25.6% in the group of women aged 85 or older. 

The third largest largest group for the female population is 25-34. Young women in this group make up 19.7% of the total, showing that large numbers of both men and women live alone after entering employment. There is an accompanying trend toward late marriages and individuals not starting families until they are in their early 30s.

19% of the Elderly Live Alone

The reason why many women live alone after the age of 75 is longevity. The average life expectancy in Japan is longer for females, and life spans have increased for women who have been widowed or divorced, or have reached old age without being married.

The number of elderly people living alone in Japan in 2020 is 6,716,806. The number of males is 2,308,171. While the number of females is 1.9 times higher, the 4,408,635 person difference is striking.

Among elderly individuals aged 65 or older, 19% live alone (15% of men and 22.1% of women). The Cabinet Office’s Annual Report on Aging Society (2009 edition) predicts that the percentage of men will rise to 20.8% and that of women to 24.5% in 2040.

In addition to increasing life spans among the elderly, there are other factors that contribute to the increase in single-person households for this age group. There are many cases where elderly individuals with children do not live together, as well as cases of elderly people without children, a reflection of the declining birthrate. These tendencies are expected to become stronger in the future.

Elderly individuals living alone are less likely to have access to supermarkets and hospitals, becoming “shopping refugees” or “outpatient refugees.” There is also a tendency for utilities such as heating and water, as well as rent, to be higher than for those living in households with multiple members.

In the future, as more part-time employees reach retirement age, the number of elderly that do not have sufficient retirement funds will also increase. If such individuals live alone, this can raise new issues not covered by conventional social security policies.

The government should first move quickly to determine what kind of impact the increase in foreigners and single households will have on Japanese society, the overall population of which is declining sharply.The government must then implement measures before it is too late.

(Read the Sankei Shimbun article in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Masashi Kawai, Visiting Editorial Writer 

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