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The third in a 3-part series on the economic impact of aging in Japan
Despite its crowds and fast pace of life, Japanese society retains an air of politeness, ongoing respect for traditional values and a low crime rate. On this last point, a recent report by the Japan Times showed a 40% drop in crimes from 2,800,000 in 2002 to 1,700,000 a decade later. Putting this in perspective, this is about 1,360 crimes per 100,000 Japanese residents compared to 3.466 per 100,000 in the United States.
Bucking the trend
In keeping with this overall trend, the number of shoplifting cases has reduced to about 140,000 a year. However, shoplifting perpetrated by people aged 65 or older has risen at about 11% per year for the last 2 decades. Shoplifting by Seniors now stands at about 27,000 cases a year or 20% of the national total.
So why are Senior Citizens bucking the decreasing crime trend and resorting to shoplifting? Three reasons are usually offered:
- The primary reason given is that the very limited financial support given by the Japanese social security system compels the elderly to steal. Noting that 80% of the items stolen were valued at •1,000 or less, this is unlikely to be a major contributing factor
- There are more Seniors meaning we would expect a rise in the number of crimes committed by this segment of the population. This argument is counter to the experience in America where the number of shoplifting offenses involving Seniors as a percentage of all shoplifting offenses is only marginally trending upward
- As the population ages, there is a rise in the number of citizens suffering from dementia. A behaviour of dementia sufferers is to rationalize that items belonging to others is in fact their own thus leading to a degree of inadvertent shoplifting
A less flattering explanation
While the above regularly proffered reasons will be minor contributing factors in the rise of shoplifting by Seniors, a more plausible explanation provides a less flattering view of contemporary Japanese society.
The Japan Times reported a Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department study on the motives of 1,050 shoplifting suspects, 204 of which were Seniors. Of the 204, 55% were single, 40% were living alone and 90% reported to have few friends. About half the participants stated that they had nothing to live for with a quarter describing themselves as very lonely.
Petty crimes by Seniors seems to be more a tragic means of seeking human attention than an economic necessity or demographic statistic. If shoplifting is indeed a reflection of a social need, the solution is for Japan to do more to ensure its rapidly increasing numbers of Seniors stay active and healthily connected to family and friends.
This last explanation may also foreshadow emerging social needs in other advanced economies with aging populations