Why Elderly Voters Wield the Power in Japan

Efforts to boost the birthrate don't get a spending boost.

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In Japan, more senior citizens are voting at higher rates than the young.

Photographer: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP via Getty Images

Age matters in Japan's politics. The older you are, the more you're rewarded by politicians.

In the fast-aging nation, the results of elections are increasingly in the hands of older people—there are more of them, and they vote at higher rates than the young.

That'll probably be the case for the upper house election on Sunday, even after the government cut the minimum voting age to 18 from 20 in hopes of involving the young. 

QuickTake Abenomics

In terms of spending, far more money is going to the elderly than the young and to support child-rearing, although that partly reflects the age structure of the population. In June, 24 million people were aged 70 and over, and 22 million were younger than 20.

Measures to improve the nation’s birthrate, including money to help parents raise children, get about 2 trillion yen, or 6.3 percent of total spending on social programs in this year's budget. This is basically unchanged from last year.  

Policymakers continue to focus on measures for senior citizens, partly because they have votes, says Hideo Kumano, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute in Tokyo. "Spending money for children is needed for the future of all the 120 million people,'' he says.

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