• Thursday, July 25, 2024
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BusinessDay

The different ages of Man – between Japan and Nigeria

The different ages of Man – between Japan and Nigeria

Japan is a country in East Asia. It has a very colourful history. and has played prominent roles in ancient and contemporary history, not just in its locality but in the world at large.

When two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, hundreds of thousands of its citizens were incinerated, and the two cities were reduced to a post-apocalyptic radiation landscape. The Second World War ended, as far as Japan was concerned.

After a few short decades, Japan bounced back from adversity to become the industrial and innovation capital of the world. Names such as Toyota and Sony became household names. The Japanese lifestyle and its work ethic became subjects of study and emulation in business schools all over the world.

Lately, the superstructure of that huge success story has begun to unravel somewhat. The reason is not just the rapid changes in technology that appear to have caught some industries napping. Before the advent of the iPhone, the Sony mini-disc was the symbol of ‘cool’ for every young adult. The iPhone and the smartphone genre have eclipsed all that now, and children born since the turn of the century will not even remember those ancient gadgets. Japan is struggling to maintain its place at the forefront of the world economy and technology by adapting its focus to other technology areas.

Japan is worried about its future. The worry is not about the economy, technology, work culture, and all that. It is about its working population, which is beginning to decline at an alarming rate. Japan currently has a population of 123.7 million. In the last year, its population declined by 800,000. Its fertility rate is 1.2 children for every woman. The country is ageing faster than any other country on earth. Currently, 28.8 percent of its population is sixty-five years of age or older. This is more than double the population of Japanese under the age of 15, which is 12 percent.

The Japanese have good healthcare and diet, and these have ensured that they have a life expectancy of 84.4 years. Fewer people are dying from disease and other issues. However, even fewer people are born annually. Fewer young people are getting married, and those that do are not bearing enough children. The reasons adduced include the high rate of female engagement in full-time work and career pursuits.

“In a liberal democratic society with a welfare safety net, this demographic is the one whose productivity will create the nation’s wealth and provide the wherewithal to look after the dependent populations—the children who don’t work and the elderly who have retired from work.”

More and more of the working-age demographic, made up of twenty-five- to sixty-year-olds, is being depleted. In a liberal democratic society with a welfare safety net, this demographic is the one whose productivity will create the nation’s wealth and provide the wherewithal to look after the dependent populations—the children who don’t work and the elderly who have retired from work.

It is shaping up into an unpredictable socio-political-economic scenario. Just a few examples of the consequences of this mix of longevity and a declining youthful population will suffice to paint the picture.

The main manufacturer of diapers in Japan has found that sales of adult diapers, used to manage adult incontinence, a not-uncommon problem in the elderly, have outstripped the sale of baby diapers. They are thinking of moving production and sales of their children’s diapers to Indonesia and nearby countries where they still have a young population and concentrating on producing and selling adult diapers in Japan itself.

More individuals are choosing to work beyond the formal retirement age, not just for the benefit of exercise but also for economic reasons.

A few incidents have been reported in which some families are suspected to have secretly brought about the deaths of their elderly relatives because of the increasing expense and difficulty of caring for them.

The Nigerian picture is a stark contrast, but it carries its own burden of worry and grave implications. The population of Nigeria is 223.8 million. Life expectancy is 53.9 years. The birth rate is 34.19 births per thousand. The death rate is 8.7 deaths per thousand of the population. On balance, the population is growing very rapidly. 70 percent of the population may be described as ‘youths’—in the age bracket of 30 years and below. About 7 percent are 60 years and above, and about half of that number are above 65 years.

Nigeria, unlike Japan, has a ‘double whammy’—a ‘ ‘youth bulge’—with all the challenging implications of catering to the educational, medical, and political needs of a restless youthful majority. Many of the dissatisfactions underlying the country’s chronic political instability are traceable to the unmet needs of this ‘bulge’.

In addition, a country that cannot yet be described as a ‘liberal democracy with a welfare net for dependents’ has an increasing population of retired, elderly citizens with an ever-increasing burden of healthcare needs, in a context of cultural and occupational dislocation.

It is a fine mess, but it is not all doom and gloom. A ‘National Senior Citizens Centre’ has been set up in Abuja to define and guide the building of structures to cater to the needs of the older people in the community. Unfortunately, the ‘Centre’ exists more in the air than on the ground, as it is under the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry, about which the less is said, the better.

Efforts are afoot at the federal, state, and local government levels to evolve a system of healthcare, social services, and perquisites that may enhance the welfare and quality of life of the elders in the community. Modern private and public homes for the compassionate and dignified care of the elderly, especially those with cognitive, mobility, and other health issues, are cropping up here and there. Skilled carers are being trained and made available to provide home-based care, although effective regulation is lacking.

It is a long journey for any society to anticipate and meet the needs of its different demographics—the different ages of man—and to try to make its citizens happy, ensuring its own long-term survival and harmony as a society. It is called development.