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Economy

In 2040, more Japanese will be old and alone

A quarter of households to be led by seniors 75 or older

The government expects more than 12 million households to be led by people aged 75 or older in 2040.

TOKYO -- Almost a quarter of Japanese households will be headed by those aged 75 or older in 2040, with many of them living alone, a government estimate shows, underscoring a trend that threatens to strain the country's social safety net.

About 12.17 million households, or 24%, will be led by a person in this age bracket, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, which released the study Friday. This represents a rise of 7.3 percentage points from 2015. The study is done every five years.

The total number of households is projected to fall to 50.75 million in 2040 from 53.33 million in 2015, after peaking in, or near, 2025. The declines are especially pronounced in rural areas such as Akita Prefecture, which is expected to fare the worst with a 22.6% drop. Just five of Japan's 47 prefectures are expected to see a population increase through 2040.

The institute expects 19.94 million people to be living alone. Of those, 5.12 million will be those aged 75 or older, accounting for 42.1% of all households headed by those in this age bracket. This is larger than the share of households consisting of married couples or couples and their children, seen at 29.9% and 10.7%, respectively.

The aging of the population will increase the demand for nursing care, an industry that is already in high demand. Nearly 90% of those currently receiving assistance under the public nursing care program are aged 75 or older.

The government estimates insurance costs, including medical care and pensions, will swell nearly 60% between fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2040 to 190 trillion yen ($1.7 trillion). Roughly 10.6 million workers -- almost 20% of the total workforce -- will be needed to meet the country's medical treatment and welfare needs.

The changing demographics will also place a strain on the country's infrastructure, which was designed and built based on older assumptions about household size and number.

Costs for electricity, gas and water will be higher per person for one-person households than those with multiple members, and fewer households mean that each will shoulder more of the cost of maintenance. Apartments and condominiums intended for solo residents could be harder to come by as well.

The government will also need to rework the models it uses to compile statistics and craft policy.

Japanese society has long considered parent-child households of three or four people to be the norm, but the share of households falling into that category shrank to 31.9% in 2000 from more than 40% in the 1980s, and is projected to decline further to just 23.3% in 2040. The average number of people per household is set to reach 2.08 that year, down from 2.33 in 2015.

Companies are trying to meet new needs arising from the demographic shift. Security company Secom launched a service on Wednesday that has the user check in on a smartphone app at a designated time every day. If no response is received, Secom will contact a family member and, if necessary, send someone to check on the person. The company expects most users to be seniors living alone.

Convenience stores are selling more food in smaller portions meant for one person. One such line of prepared foods offered by FamilyMart has proved popular among seniors, with sales rising 20% in the year through February.

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