Professor of Psychology
The Japan Institute of Labor
The greying of Japanese society is occurring so quickly as to be incomparable with that of other countries. According to estimates by the United Nation's Population Division, Japan's elderly population will reach 10 to 20 percent of the total in only 23 years, while in Canada, Sweden and Britain the same process will take 40 years, 65 years and 80 years, respectively. In the wake of this situation, Japan is facing the challenge of meeting the urgent needs of an aging society in a variety of areas, such as medical care, pensions, social welfare and employment. But because of the remarkable rapidity with which the nation is aging, the government, business community, families and even individuals, it is safe to say, find themselves, baffled, unable to respond properly to the rising tide of societal aging.
This article provides an overview of the present state of and response to employment of elderly people, an urgent task to be tackled by individual older persons and by the Japanese economy alike.
Realities of Employment of Older Persons and Their Desire to Work
According to Labor Force Survey conducted by the Management and Coordination Agency, which shows the age-wise composition ratio of employees (See Table 1), the proportion of those over 40 is rising, clearly indicating the greying of Japan's labor force. In particular, the percentage of employed workers over 55 as well as of those over 65 is inching up. Projections for the labor force distribution by age in 1990 as well as 2010 trends show that young people between the ages of 15 and 29 will drop from 23.1 to 18.2 percent and middle-aged persons (40-54) from 56.7 to 54.9 percent, while on the other hand, the elderly over the age of 55 will grow dramatically from 20.2 to 26.9 percent.
Looking at the employment of older persons over 65 based upon the 1990 Census, the rate of employment of elderly people varies widely from region to region; the larger the city, the higher the percentage. Specifically, the rate of employment of older persons was the highest in Tokyo, where 40.7 percent of males and 21.5 percent of females were working. Even in Nagasaki, with the lowest employment rate of older people, 19.2 percent of men and 10.0 percent of women were in the work force.
What, then, do elderly people think about "working"? The outcome of a Survey on Attitudes of Workers, conducted by Tekkororen (Japan Federation of Steel Workers' Unions) and covering 15,000 engineers over 50 in the steel industry, found that those elderly people who replied that they "want to continue working after the age of mandatory retirement," exceeded 60 percent, far surpassing the 17.4 percent who answered that "do not want to work any more" (See Fig.2). Of the respondents who said "want to work," 50 percent wish "to continue until 65 when they receive their pensions," followed by the 20 percent who want to work for 3-4 years after mandatory retirements and the 16 percent who wish to work until around 70. Asked about forms of employment, over 40 percent of those who replied "want to work after mandatory retirements" consider working five days a week. Concerning daily working hours, 43 percent want to work full time and 37 percent, 5 to 6 hours. The fact that 37 percent want to put in 5 to 6 hours a day indicates that elderly people have a strong desire to work. Also these results are similar to those obtained from surveys of older persons working in other industries.
Why do they "wish to work"? The same survey revealed that of older persons wanting to work after mandatory retirements, 44 percent said they "need to work to keep something to live for and to keep healthy." Thirty-six percent and 19 percent replied they "need the income to make a living" and "want a comfortable life and free time for hobbies and travel," respectively. The survey is based on predictions on post retirement life made by those who will soon reach mandatory retirements. In 1989 the Association of Employment Development for Senior Citizens carried out a survey on the will to work, covering those who had reached mandatory retirements. According to the survey results entitled (Employment and Lives of Those Who have Reached Mandatory Retirements in Their Early 60s 1989), of the 2,985 respondents, 43 percent were in the work force and 56.0 percent were non-workers, of whom 2.6 percent were "looking for work" and 31.4 percent were "out of the work force." This clearly shows that of those who retired at the mandatory age, nearly 80 percent were either working or wanted to work. Furthermore, of these, 630 men from 60 to 64 cited the following as reasons for work or wishing to continue (multiple answers). The highest, or 58.7 percent cited "good for health," followed by "need to supplement family income" (32.2%), "will be badly off without work" (31.9%). "want to give full play to my experience and ability" (29.7%), "feel bored with nothing to do" (26.7%) and "enjoy the current job"(22.3%), "want to do something useful in society" (19.1%), "want a friend or someone to talk to" (13.3%), "the company or peer employees need me" (7.1%), "feel humiliated without a job" (6.4%), "almost all of my former co-workers continue to work" (5.8%) and others.
The above two survey results covering the elderly in their 50s and 60s show that many older persons "wish to work even after 60" and that the majority cite as reasons for wanting to work after mandatory retirements "wish to have something to live for," "wish to stay healthy" and "want a comfortable living" as well as economic reasons.
Changing Employment Management Surrounding the Elderly
With a shortage of available workers, especially a decline in the number of young people who were considered to compose the core labor force, Japanese industry must depend on middle-aged and older workers. Under the guidance of Ministry of Labour, the 60-year-age limit has taken firm hold, progressively. Furthermore, thanks in part to the 1991 revision of the Law Concerning Older People and Stable Employment, the employment environment for older persons, it is said, is becoming much more favorable. Regarding rooting of the 60-years-of-age limit for retirement. Figure 3 shows the proportion by retirement age of those enterprises which enforce fixed age limits. Following 1989, the diffusion rate of the 60-year-age limit grew rapidly, reaching 71 percent in 1991. Meanwhile, the ratio of job opening to applicants (1992) stood at 4.34 for those from 15 to 29, 2 for those between the ages of 30 and 39 and somewhere around 1 even for those from 40 to 54, while on the other hand, it dropped below 1 for those 55 and older. Especially, the ratio for those from 60 to 64 stood at 0.23, showing the reality that the ratio of job openings to applicants for elderly people remains at low. One reason may be explained as follows. The 60-years-of-age limit has become the norm and progress in continuous employment resulting from extended employment after 55 as well as reemployment plans continues. Therefore, there is now a greater possibility that those elderly people over 60 wanting to continue to work will tend to stay with the same enterprise or corporate group, enabling the company to find a sufficient supply of necessary labor from within. Another reason is this. The employer's biased view of the elderly-his general concept that lower labor efficiency, lack of flexibility and inability to adapt to a new environment are attributed to the elderly-has rendered the age limit an additional condition for job openings and has made him reluctant to utilize older persons.
As mentioned above, there are diversifying reasons for older people to continue working. In addition, there are wide individual differences in physical strength, health and living conditions among the elderly. These affect the need to diversify employment patterns. Smaller-scale enterprises, rather than large ones, are actively tackling the question of how to develop employment plans tailored for older persons. For example, as shown in Table 2, the smaller the company size, the higher the percentage of all those who wish to work, benefiting from extended employment plans as well as reemployment programs.
Cases have been reported that show attempts at a new methods of employment administration in order to meet the diversified needs of elderly people over 60. The majority of these reports are, however, from smaller establishments. For instance, to meet the two problems of: one, the needs of older persons who want "something to live for and comfortable living standards" and second, the shortage of workers, some companies have recently introduced a system of so called worksharing which enables several persons to share one specific job through flexible employment and working patterns. These includes short-time work, working every other day and the home-duty work system. Also, they have been promoting mechanization and automation of operations through the development and introduction of ME equipment, thus trying to expand job fields for the elderly.
Need for Guidance Services for the Elderly
As stated above, elderly people in Japan, on the whole, have a strong desire to work even after reaching the age of 60. However, there are few jobs available for those who have reached the 60-year-age of compulsory retirement, and the unemployment rate for those aged 60 to 64 is high at 4.9 percent. This compares with the average unemployment rate of 2.1 percent in 1991. On the other hand, one cannot ignore the fact that there have emerged corporate moves to try to diversify forms of employment and work in order to create an environment which allows the elderly to work with ease. It is undeniable, however, that corporate approaches are rather stopgap measures aimed at relieving the current labor shortage rather than long-term measures and policies to cope with the aging of society. With the greying labor force and the long-term worker shortage predicted by statisticians, elderly people wish to continue working; yet those over 60 find it difficult to get employment. Why?
Companies, still preoccupied with the traditional view of older persons over 60, strongly feel that they cannot hire elderly persons because "they lose their vocational ability and flexibility as they grow older." Since individual differences in a variety of aspects become wider as one becomes older, it is not appropriate to consider every elderly person "elderly" simply as measured by age. Yet the reality is that one cannot present scientific evidence enough to refute such a biased view. According to Assessment of the Aged by the General Aptitude Test Battery, conducted in 1991 by the Japan Institute of Labour (JIL), those over 40 were given a paper and pencil test and were found to obtain lower scores than those advanced in years. The test also revealed that subjects' scores become lower depending on the kind of their abilities. What is more, it was presumed that there were differences between older persons' abilities due to past vocational experience and their deteriorating abilities. JIL is presently assessing the elderly's vocational ability, the results of which will be presented on another occasion. In its research currently underway, JIL proposes that unlike young people without vocational experience, evaluating vocational interest, values and vocational experience rather than vocational aptitudes in a narrow sense is instrumental in assessing the vacational fitness of the elderly. It also recommends that a comprehensive individual assessment system is badly needed for the elderly. Such a comprehensive assessment system will serve to help corporate managers cast away their biased view toward the elderly.
Corporate managers' traditional concept alone, it appears, does not make it hard for older persons to find employment. The elderly, too, it is said, are responsible for their difficulty in finding work. Many adhere to their preretirement vocational background and positions, make unrealistic demands or are not well aware of what they can do. Lack of preparation for reemployment on the part of elderly people hampers their reemployment. To meet the problem, it is necessary to establish a comprehensive system of reexamining the elderly's vocational ability and a counseling system for helping them in their reemployment endeavors.
Tokyo's population will include over 20 percent of those over the age of 60 in the early 21st century. In view of this, the Metropolitan Government has been developing a system for assisting those elderly people having the will and ability to work. The focus will be to enable them to continue working in those forms of employment which meet their true needs. To get the system going, Tokyo will inaugurate a Comprehensive Employment Center for the Elderly (tentatively named) in 1995. The soon-to-be established Center will have the following eight functions: Information dissemination to both corporations and elderly people. Counseling services for older persons, assessing the elderly's ability and physical strength. Providing the elderly with vocational training and development. Consulting services for companies and employers. Introduction of job openings to the elderly and that of job applications to enterprises. Follow-up services for both elderly people and corporations. And providing a forum for awareness and learning of aging as well as for heart-to-heart human exchange for metropolitan dwellers, middle-aged and older persons and companies. The center thus aims to extend assistance to the elderly in their efforts to find reemployment by offering aid to both the elderly and the business community. An organ like this will surely be vital in Japanese society which is experiencing dramatic changes in industrial circles and a rapidly aging population, particularly so in big cities where there are many over-65s wanting to work.
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