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May 14 (Bloomberg) -- The number of elderly Japanese arrested for crimes tripled in the decade to 2008 as the aging population struggled to cope with isolation and a stagnating economy, a government report showed.

The number of arrests among people aged 65 or older tripled to 48,786 in 2008 from 1999, the Cabinet Office said in a white paper released today. About one-third of those arrested were repeat offenders.

The report highlights problems arising from demographic changes in Japan, where one in five people are over 65 and women are having fewer babies. Record social welfare costs and a swelling public debt, the world’s largest, have prompted concern among aging citizens that Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama may cut pension benefits, said economist Toshihiro Nagahama.

“There is no doubt that being alone heightens concern for elderly people, and along with the weak economy, that leads to more crime,” said Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute in Tokyo. “They can’t work as much as they want, and they must worry about the public pension system as the government faces a huge debt burden.”

More than half of Japan’s elderly households rely on pensions, the report said, citing Labor Ministry figures. Theft accounted for 68 percent of crimes committed by older people in 2008, according to the National Police Agency. Violent offences made up 7 percent and fraud amounted to 1.8 percent.

Sharpest Contraction

The world’s second-largest economy has stagnated since an asset-price bubble burst 20 years ago. Gross domestic product shrank 5.2 percent last year, the sharpest contraction in the postwar era.

Loneliness contributed to the increase in offences as it heightened people’s anxiety about their health and finances, said Takehiko Kojima, a Cabinet Office analyst who compiled the report.

“Economic factors were a major contributor for the rise in crime but we also found that isolation could cause rich seniors to commit crimes,” he said. “It’s not that simple.”

About 60 percent of the repeat criminals were people who lived alone, the paper said. In Japan, about 20 percent of elderly women and 10 percent of men in the same age group now live by themselves, it said.

The number of elderly people rose to a record 29 million in 2008, accounting for 23 percent of the population.

To contact the reporter on this story: Toru Fujioka in tokyo at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Anstey at

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