Daily Factoid: Lesson from Japan

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of the American population over 65 will rise rapidly for the next fifteen years. Senior citizens account for about 13% of the population today, but will account for over 20 percent of the population in 2030.  

Here at re: Revolutionary Old Idea we’re fascinated by the aging population because it carries huge implications for brands, marketing, and advertising. But of course there are far wider social, cultural, and economic implications, too. Anyone with an interest in the shape of America’s future is thinking about that demographic change—an inevitable consequence of the Baby Boom.

What will the future be like? Maybe there are clues to be found in Japan, which has the oldest population of any country: 23% of the population is over 65. (This is a ratio that the Census Bureaunever projects for the U.S.)

Michelle Gibley, Director of International Research with the Charles Schwab company’s Schwab Center for Financial Research, recently authored a white paper entitled, Japan: Land of the Rising Consumer, which made these observations—which will surprise some people—about Japan’s 30 million seniors.

Normally we think of working-age people as spenders and of the elderly as savers—however, in Japan, its elderly actually spend more annually than the population average (1.29 versus 1.20 million yen respectively). And, with average savings of 22.6 million yen ($226,000), this segment of the population has cash ready to spend.

Japan's elderly are buying more than just staples; they're spending money on toys (for grandchildren), travel, luxury goods, and conveniences. According to a recent survey by the Japan Association of Travel Agents, seniors traveled more than any other group during the second and third quarters of 2012. Supermarkets are redesigning stores geared toward older shoppers. Additionally, technology companies are designing more products to appeal to this demographic:

  • NTT DoCoMo introduced a specialized smartphone that caters to older users, featuring larger icons, a touch screen that vibrates, and simplified steps for sending email and taking pictures.
  • The robotic pet "Paro," selling for roughly $5,000, offers companionship and is used in "robot therapy."
  • Toyota has developed cars with hand controls and seats that swivel to make it easier to get in and out.
  • Household technology is also adapting, with products such as beds with sensors that lock doors and toilet seats that rise automatically when someone enters the bathroom.