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August 8, 2010 / Rick Martin

The data behind Japan’s aging population

In keeping with Richard’s post about the massive Wikileaks’ data file on the Afghan war, I though I’d continue the theme by rolling out some numbers on Japan’s elderly who are making unusual headlines these days, with many of them being reported ‘missing.’

Note the quotation marks. They’re important.

In a recent Kyodo News article it was stated that 56 out of 75 ‘missing’ centenarians were males. It went on to say:

Data released by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare last September put the number of the nation’s centenarians at a record-high 40,399, of which 34,952 were women and 5,447 were men, presuming they were all alive at the time and accounted for.

Note: The bold above is mine.

Given what we know about Japan’s population distribution, there is no reason to make such a presumption. Obviously it’s optimistic, and unlikely too. Give ’em a Barry Bonds asterisk at the very least.

In Japan, males over 85 are outnumbered by females nearly 3 to 1. Here’s a population pyramid showing how females in Japan are practically indestructible in comparison to the men. The data comes courtesy of

Japan population pyramid, 2010

The same data, when displayed as a line graph quite literally shows the men’s drop-off while the females continue to live on:

Perhaps the media is a little reluctant to say state the obvious, that the odds are very heavily stacked against these ‘missing’ elderly, especially the male ones. Perhaps some of their relatives are still clinging to hope? Perhaps some families have ulterior motives (or can’t do without the pension money) and are well aware that the missing person has long passed?

Whatever the case, the global publicity and embarrassment brought about by this issue is sure to drive Japanese officials to keep a closer watch on the nation’s seniors. The Kyodo article above finishes up by quoting a gerontology professor who says that male centenarians have a tendency to roam.

Maybe this is true. But to be frank, the numbers tell us (however unfortunately) that male centenarians have a tendency to die as well.

Download data used in this article: CSV | XLS


Leave a Comment
  1. Network Camera / Sep 7 2010 2:44 am

    Excellent piece of writing, l quite agree with your submission. I will subscribe to your rss to keep up.


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