Aging Societies: The Cases Of Italy And Japan – OpEd


This article critically analyzes the raising “aging societies” phenomenon through the case of Italy and Japan and describes the policies and possible solutions provided by the two countries.


Over the past years, multiple factors have contributed to augmenting the worldwide life expectancy, reaching the current 76 years for women and 70.8 for men, according to the latest United Nations Population Division estimates.

Global aging is indeed a result of multiple successes obtained by the current socio-economic scenario, but at the same time, it may result in a problem for some countries characterized by a low fertility index, as in the case of Italy and Japan.

For instance, according to data provided by UN Population Division, Japan and Italy are respectively ranked as first and second countries1 for having the world’s oldest population, meaning people over 65 years and older (29.9% and 24.1% in 2022). This article examines the issues that both countries have been facing over the last few years and the policies pursued by their governments to better address this issue.

Case #1: Italy

Italy is a country well known for its longevity, but the latter has recently brought up many problems related to a steady decline in the fertility rate index and a growing older population. According to the United Nations data, Italy has an average life expectancy of 84 years, a 0.17% growth from 2022.

An elderly population constitutes a new demographic phase that has, on some occasions, been managed by policies that attempt to promote the so-called Active aging. Active Ageing is defined by the European Commission as ‘helping people stay in charge of their own lives for as long as possible as they age and, where possible, to contribute to the economy and society’.

In the case of Italy, these policies have been promoted from both a national and a regional level. However, according to the report on the state of the art regarding Active Ageing policies in Italy in 2022, the definition of older people was not present, therefore “It leaves to the national or regional legislator the task of determining, sector by sector, the relevant age thresholds respecting, where necessary, Community regulation.”

Conversely, as ISPI has pointed out, on a regional level more encouraging, but still not sufficient, developments are arising. Hitherto, Italy’s declining population contributes to future economic uncertainty in several fields. For this reason, the current Italian government has renamed the “Ministry for Family” into “the Ministry for Family, Natality and Equal Opportunities” to better address this issue.

On the other hand, as Le Monde underlined, this is also a way of exploiting one of Italy’s strongest cultural traits: its attachment to a patriarchal society and the family.

According to the World Bank Data in 2021, the average fertility rate in Italy reached 1.3, while the worldwide average was 2.3, putting Italy at the bottom of the European league.

The trend worsened due to the pandemic in 2020-2021, and young people are currently suffering from a poor employment rate, precarious work, and low wages. Moreover, state welfare is often unable to provide enough services and structures for families that are trying to combine work and family life.

From the report issued by Save the Children 2022, 77.2 % of voluntary resignations from work regarded women workers and 38% of them said that one of the major issues was the inaccessibility to cure services. Furthermore, according to data from MoneyFarm, raising a child in Italy on average costs 700 euro per month. At the same time, as data from MasterCard report Donna e Finanza have shown, 70% of women under 40 admits that economic freedom is perceived as a priority in their life.

There are many cultural factors to take in consideration when it comes to make this type of decision. Quoting the journalist Anna Ferry2 , “Non faremo figli perché ce lo chiede l’Inps ma perché il sistema nel quale viviamo si adeguerà alle esigenze di una famiglia contemporanea, costruendo quello spazio necessario per disegnare nuovi modelli di genitorialità, dove la narrazione della maternità non è più legata all’idea di sacrificio – sei madre, rinuncia a tutto e mostrati grata – ma alla condivisione di un ruolo di cura e al diritto di essere altro senza venire schiacciata dalle aspettative sociali e dal giudizio.”

The risk that the Italian economy is now facing is stagnation: with many Italians moving abroad and fewer births within the country, Italy’s workforce is diminishing, and other problems are worsening such as the ones related to the retirement system.
According to Istat, in 2021 pension expenditure reached a value worth 17,6% of the country’s GDP. Eventually, given the higher rate of elderly that needs healthcare, more funding must be destined for it, but this will trickle down to the average Italian.

Case #2: Japan

“Japan is standing on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society.” These are the words pronounced last January by the first Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

According to United Nations Population Division, in 2022, 30% of the population was 65 years or older, making Japan one the countries in the world with the highest percentage of an elderly people.

Similarly to what has been observed in Italy, the fertility rate hit a record low of 1.26 in 2022. Experts underlined analogous problems that stop women and families from giving birth, such as the cost of child-rearing, and the difficult balance of lifework. Moreover, Japan is one of the most expensive countries to raise a child.

Among all the prefectures, Tokyo has the lowest fertility rate, 1.04, and the government is willing to pay people to move out from the capital to countryside towns. A total of 1 million yen per child will be given to families willing to live in less populated areas, where also the problem of unoccupied homes is becoming a relevant issue.

The retirement age is currently being raised by one year every two years and a re-employment system is now used to deal with the age gap and the absence of enough workforce. Furthermore, many have claimed as a problem the fact that in Kishida’s 19-minister cabinet, just two women were involved and the people that took part in the demographic debate were for the majority just men.

In addition to economic matters, the still existence of unequal gender roles plays a crucial factor in Japan’s declining marriage rate, worsened by the unstable equilibrium work-life. For instance, in 2021, a government survey found out that Japanese women spend around four times as long on chores and childcare as men.

Money alone might be not sufficient to solve this issue and other policies may be necessary to address this problem that, quoting Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, “cannot wait any longer”.


Aging societies is not a topic limited to the two cases stated above but it has now become a major challenge for several countries.
In East Asia, the case of South Korea, the country with the world’s lowest fertility rate, is notable. According to United Nations Population Division1, in 2050 Hong Kong and South Korea are expected to become the first and second countries ranked for the oldest population worldwide.

It is now fundamental to plan the correct measures and implement new policies to handle better these new challenges.
Eventually, despite the impossibility of finding a single answer to the problem, it is necessary to work on several aspects, including the social and cultural ones and a country’s ability to adapt new reception policies.


  1. Only includes countries with a population of more than 1 million people
  2. “We will not have children because the INPS asks us to, but because the system in which we live will adapt to the needs of a contemporary family, building the space necessary to design new models of parenthood, where the idea of motherhood is no longer linked to the idea of sacrifice – you are a mother, you must renounce to everything and show gratitude – but to the sharing of a caring role and the right to be something else without being crushed by social expectations and judgment.”


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Caterina Sofia Calabro

Caterina Sofia Calabro is a student in economics and management for art, culture and communication at L. Bocconi University, Milan.

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