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EDITORIAL | Rise in Single Elderly Households Needs Creative Solutions

Providing adequate medical care, nursing care, and lifestyle support to all single-person households should be the national and local governments' firm goal.



Elderly people shopping at a moving supermarket. March 18, Ishioka, Ibaraki Prefecture. (©Sankei by Nozomi Motoe)

The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research has released a study entitled "Future Estimates of Number of Households in Japan." The report projects that single-person households will increase to 44.3% by 2050, compared to 38% in 2020.

Of particular note is the rapid aging of those living alone. Consider, for example, only the age group 65 and over. Single-person households in this group are expected to rise from around 13.2% to 20.6%. That means they will approach roughly 11 million households. 

There is an urgent need to build a sustainable system so that elderly people living alone can live with peace of mind and without worry about how to make ends meet. 

Aging Baby Boomers of Single-Child Families

This increase in elderly single-person households reflects the aging of the baby boomers and later generations. Moreover, many of these individuals have remained unmarried. 

Looking solely at elderly men, the proportion of men who do not marry is expected to rise from 33.7% in 2020 to 59.7% in 2050. 

Moreover, the "junior baby boomer generation" overlaps with the members of the "employment ice age generation." These were new graduates who began job hunting after the "bubble economy" had burst. In many cases, they were forced to accept low-wage, non-regular employment and some therefore have low pension income. 

This is a generation in which people are likely to have fewer siblings. Therefore, if they have no children, it will be difficult to expect help from relatives. 

Elderly people exercise at a gym. April 18, Musashino, Tokyo. (©Sankei by Katsuyuki Seki)

Missing Families to Meet Their Needs

The national and local governments should display more concern over how the traditional functions of the family as a social unit are being eroded.

Naturally, preparing adequate medical care and home care arrangements for these elderly is critically important. However, these same people will also need help surviving in their daily lives. 

When it becomes necessary for elderly singles to relocate, even moving into rental housing can be a formidable undertaking. In addition, landlords are frequently reluctant to rent to such individuals. They fear that the elderly will die alone or be late in paying rent. 

Ensuring Aging Men Don't Fall Through the Cracks

Population decline also makes it a certainty that the number of empty houses will increase. We urgently need to smooth the process of entering into rental contracts for these individuals through strategies like introducing monitoring functions. Information and communication technologies should be fully used as well. 

Single elderly men are often especially reluctant to participate in preventive care programs to protect their health or join senior salons. To tackle this issue, local governments need to be creative. In other words, they may need special programs for men. 

Furthermore, as individuals become increasingly frail due to social withdrawal and malnutrition, it is easy for them to reach a state where they require nursing care.

Local governments in mountainous areas have been experimenting with assistance for shopping. They have also encouraged groups of elderly people to live together and help each other out. 

As population decline and depopulation of local areas progress, however, dealing with these issues becomes more challenging. Providing adequate medical care, nursing care and lifestyle support to all single-person households should be a firm goal. In addition, we should seriously consider encouraging more people to live together. 


(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun