April 12, 2014 5:15 am JST

40% of Japanese households to be headed by seniors by 2035

TOKYO -- The share of the nation's households headed by people aged 65 or older is expected to break 40% by 2035, according to official data released Friday, highlighting a trend forcing both the public and private sectors to reassess strategies.

     The projection from the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research estimates the number of households in each prefecture based on the 2010 census, giving an estimate for every five years through 2035.

     As of 2010, 31.2% households were headed by seniors. This will jump nearly 10 points to 40.8% by 2035. The rate of increase for 2030 through 2035 is expected to climb 1.5 points, significantly more than the 0.9-point rise for the previous five years.

     The 65-and-up set is seen accounting for 39.9% of the overall population by 2060, reaching the 40% level 25 years after the head-of-household figure.

     The total number of households is expected to peak at 53.05 million in 2020.

     As of 2010, only in Akita Prefecture were 40% or more of households headed by seniors. But by 2035, this will be the case for 41 of Japan's 47 prefectures. Akita will still top the list at 52.1%, owing to both a growing elderly population and an outflow of younger blood, making it the first to break the 50% mark.

     The rapid graying of the population continues in urban areas as well. The number of senior-headed households will climb 30% or more over the 25 years through 2035 in such areas as Tokyo and the prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba and Aichi.

     People living alone will account for 37.7% of all households headed by the elderly in 2035, up from 30.7% in 2010. There are concerns that the shift to a nuclear family model, away from the traditional multigeneration household, will contribute to such social issues as deaths in isolation.

     Single-person households will account for a plurality of households in each prefecture by 2025, reaching 37.2% of the total, or 18.45 million, in 2035, as the number of unmarried young people grows.

     Businesses are keeping these trends in mind. Major builders of single-family houses are opening up new business segments to make up for the expected slump in new construction.

     Sekisui House sells senior housing with care specialists in residence. It is also developing nursing care robots, aiming for commercialization by 2015. Toyota Home sells single-family homes with floor plans that can easily accommodate wheelchairs with some simple remodeling.

     More than 60% of customers who use Seven-Eleven Japan's boxed-meal delivery service are 60 or older.

     "The aging population and low birthrate issues have a head start in Japan, but they are on the horizon in developed Western countries as well," says Naoko Kuga of the NLI Research Institute. "If products and services can be offered in response to changing domestic demand, it will also help in developing overseas markets."

     Reform will be essential to maintain the social security system as well.

     "It'll be necessary to increase the burden (on beneficiaries) and cut benefits for the well-off," says Kazuhiko Nishizawa of the Japan Research Institute.