Japan at the forefront of hyper-ageing societies: opportunities more than burdens

By Genki Oka, Partner, McKinsey & Company, Tokyo Office


Genki Oka

While the phenomenon of ageing societies often provides a foundation for debate on increasing costs and strain on meeting employment requirements, business and society should not forget that an ageing population is also an opportunity that is multi-faceted in nature. At the forefront of hyper-ageing societies, Japan provides a telling case study for its reactivity in terms of solutions and mindset towards the elderly 

461875159 (1)All of the participating countries in the Council on Business & Society’s 2014 Tokyo Forum were ageing societies – even Brazil, where by 2050, 30% of the country’s population will be at least 60 years old. All of the three Forum themes at that event – Healthy employees, Healthy organizations; Technology and Management Innovations in Healthcare; and Challenges: Who pays for Healthcare and How is it Supplied? – are powerfully influenced by this unprecedented socio-demographic phenomenon.

Issues and opportunities

Rising sunBy focusing on Japan – the country at the forefront of the world’s hyper-ageing societies – best practices can be drawn and many lessons learned that can be used to address issues in other countries. Currently, 1 in 4 people in Japan are over 65 years of age. By 2030 this will rise to 1 person in 3. Japan is expected to face a serious labor shortage in terms of sustaining GDP growth, leading to an increasing war for talent, and with the ageing of the workforce leading to increasing leaves of absence due to illness. Businesses see this as both an issue they need to address – and as an opportunity. The human resource implications are that companies need to value and utilize the contribution of every generation, promote the exchange of expertise and experience, and consider innovative HR policies. Advanced companies have already developed tailoring models to retain talent.

Needs indeed

153208322For the healthcare industry, the growing elderly population will mean increased patient requirements including care services and pharmaceutical solutions. However, the increasing number of elderly also creates significant opportunities to address currently unmet and future needs in Japan. These needs include home healthcare, day-care services, and monitoring services to ensure that the elderly are, for example, taking medications property. The last issue, although seemingly simple, is in fact of particular complexity – compliance with physician instructions and adherence to healthy lifestyles is highly problematic with many elderly persons. This is so especially in the case of single-person households, where the very elderly often do not correctly follow their medication (or other medical) instructions, or completely forget or refuse to take their prescribed medications or medical services. All of these problems are already very common in Japan, and their prevalence is increasing.

In daily life with the elderly Japanese, emerging themes include relieving anxiety and loneliness, effective use of time, and alternatives to maintain youth. Successful products and services targeting the elderly have unique aspects, such as a shoe design that prevents falls and is easy to put on, or housekeeping services companies doing chores and talking with elderly customers.

Getting it right

In the context of hyper-ageing society, there are several factors to be taken into account that include the avoidance of labeling seniors as “old people”. Indeed, elderly people are not “old” except in a relative sense and might certainly be viewed as potentially “young” (as in “new”) consumers”: customers that have specific needs requiring tailored solutions and who are contributors to building a stronger and more sharing society. Moreover, needs must be tailored to the individual and in great detail as well as the provision of combining creativity with sense of security. These contribute to forming a closely-knit elderly community with a higher degree of control and autonomy over their lives. From the business perspective, the ageing population represents a segment to cater for – it should always be kept in mind that, if their special needs are catered for correctly, these clients have the potential to become extremely loyal repeat customers. Ageing society can be seen as an opportunity rather than a burden, with many new requirements open to cater for service and associated healthcare solutions.

Written and edited by Prof. Edward Yagi and Tom Gamble from notes taken at the Council on Business forum on Health and Healthcare: At the Crossroads of Business and Society

Read the McKinsey report on Japan: lessons from a hyper-aging society 
Genki Oka on the Council on Business & Society website 
Visit the Council on Business website highlight to the 2014 Forum – Health and Healthcare at the Crossroads of Business and Society

The Council on Business & Society Global Alliance is an ongoing international dialogue between six of the world’s leading business schools and an organiser of Forums focusing on issues at the crossroads of business and society – The Council Community helps bring together business leaders, academics, students and journalists from around the world. #CouncilonBusinessandSociety

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.