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Japanese Perceptions on Retirement:
Based on the Findings of Two International Surveys

By Junko Hirano, Lecturer, Nagaoka University


Two international surveys on retirement were conducted in 2005.

Retirement. For many people, retirement is one of life's major turning points. Two international surveys have brought into view Japan's perceptions on retirement compared to those of people in other countries. What is retirement for the Japanese? What is the health and economic status of the Japanese after retirement? How is retirement viewed in other countries? This article describes Japanese perceptions on retirement based on the results of two international surveys.

About the Two International Surveys

(1) AXA Survey (Survey A)

Fieldwork Dates: July 2005
Methodology: Telephone interview
Institute Carrying out Survey in Japan: Video Research Ltd. (Japan)
Target Audience: Working people from age 25 to 54 and retired people from age 55 to 75
Total No. of People Surveyed: 6,915 people (No. of people surveyed in Japan: 300 working people and 300 retired people)
Countries Surveyed: 11 (Japan, Hong Kong, Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia)

(2) AARP Survey (Survey B)

Fieldwork Dates: March to May 2005
Methodology: Telephone interview
Target Audience: Men and women from 30 to 65 years of age
Total No. of People Surveyed: 4,011 people (No. of people surveyed in Japan: 401)
Countries Surveyed: 10 (Japan, the United States, Canada, Australia,the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands)

Perceptions and Awareness of Retirement

What kinds of images do people have of retirement? These international surveys reveal certain aspects of the Japanese people's views of retirement.

In Survey A, interviewees were asked what spontaneous thoughts came to mind when thinking about the word "retirement." The results showed that Japanese associate negative images with the word "retirement." However, the images that retirees associate with retirement are positive compared to those held by working people.
What Thoughts Are Spontaneously Associated with Retirement?
Moreover, it is clear that Japanese have a strong desire "to work as long as possible." When asked about their "ideal retirement age," working people said it was 62 while retired people said 64. For both groups, however, their ideal retirement age was higher than their expected/actual retirement age. Of the 11 countries surveyed, Japan was the only nation where the ideal retirement age was higher than the expected/actual retirement age.

In Survey B, interviewees were asked about how they viewed retirement. A total of 68 percent of Japanese responded that they were "very optimistic" or "somewhat optimistic" about retirement, making Japan the third highest of the 10 countries surveyed in terms of level of optimism.

Survey A suggests that retirement is not a life event with which the Japanese associate particularly good images and that the Japanese want to remain in the workforce for as long as they can. However, the Japanese respondents in the Survey B express an optimistic view on retirement .

Planning for Retirement

The surveys indicate that Japanese "are late in starting to prepare for retirement" and "do not think much about retirement."

Survey A found that 10 percent of working people and 11 percent of retired people actively gather information about retirement, the lowest of all 11 countries surveyed. Compared to Western people, Japanese were found to be passive about planning retirement activities; 3 percent of working people and 19 percent of retired people responded that "they are not doing anything," the second highest of the countries surveyed after the Spanish.

In Survey B, 54 percent of Japanese responded that they have given retirement "some thought" or "a lot of thought." This is below the average of all respondents, who reported that they have given at least "some thought" to their retirement (58 percent). According to the polled respondents, the provision of retirement information is inadequate in Japan. Furthermore, only 11 percent of Japanese indicated that they feel they are adequately informed about the things they need for a happy and successful retirement, well below the overall figure of 25 percent. Japan and France were the lowest in the ranking in this regard. These findings suggest that in Japan both the provision of information about retirement is inadequate and people's information collection efforts and preparations are very limited. Thus, so far as these survey results are concerned, compared to foreign countries, Japanese culture does not encourage its people to actively plan for retirement.

Health Status of Retirees

Survey B asked interviewees about their personal health. Japan came in the lowest of the 10 countries surveyed, with only 59 percent of Japanese responding that their health is "excellent," "very good," or "good." Additionally, 10 percent of Japanese responded "poor," the highest score of all countries surveyed.
General State of Health
However, the number of healthy seniors has in fact increased in recent years in Japan. Given these somewhat puzzling results, it is advisable to look closely at another finding of the survey = more Japanese responded that their health was "average" (about 30 percent) than people from other countries. Thus, it appears reasonable to assume that even if the Japanese did not confidently indicate that their health was "good," many seniors who are not of bad health are included among those who responded that their health was "average."

Economic Status in Retirement

Personal finances during retirement are a major issue. As shown below, the international surveys reveal people's economic status after retirement.

In Survey A, interviewees were asked about their retirement income. Japanese working people who responded that their retirement income would be "completely sufficient" or "sufficient" was 4 percent, the lowest of the 11 countries surveyed, while 40 percent of Japanese retired people said their retirement income would be "completely sufficient" or "sufficient," ranking ninth. Thus, the poll suggests that Japanese have major concerns about their personal finances in retirement. Working people, in particular, have a stronger sense of uncertainty than their elders.
Is/Will Retirement Income Be Sufficient? Moreover, 97 percent of working people and 93 percent of retired people in Japan are pessimistic about the future of their pension system, dreading that "their public pension benefits will decrease," the highest figures of the countries surveyed.

Survey B also found that Japanese were very uncertain about their government's ability to provide health care benefits to future retirees (international overall average: 3.8; Japanese average: 3.4, on a 10-point scale) and Japanese showed a low level of trust in their government's ability to provide pension benefits to future retirees (international overall average: 3.8; Japanese average: 3.6 on a 10-point scale). Across all countries surveyed, the majority of respondents think that their country's public pension system does not provide retirees with a comfortable lifestyle. In particular, a total of 90 percent of Japanese thought that the lifestyle afforded by a public pension would be "not very" comfortable or "not at all" comfortable, the highest percentage of the 10 countries surveyed.
Level of Comfort Offered by Public Pensions

Quality of Life after Retirement

Will one's overall quality of life improve or decline after retirement compared to that before retirement?

Survey A asked interviewees whether they thought their quality of life would improve or diminish after retirement. Compared to other countries, many Japanese working people have concerns about their quality of life after retirement, with 52 percent—over one half—of Japanese workers responding that they believe their quality of life will "diminish." However, 58 percent of retired people said that their quality of life "has remained the same" as before retirement, thus the pessimism found among retired people is less prominent among working people.
Does Retirement Mean Improved or Diminished Quality of Life ?

In Conclusion

Due to space limitations, we do not have a chance to review the results of the two international surveys in greater detail; however, it is possible to summarize their findings as shown below:
(1) Retirement is a life event that the Japanese want to postpone for as long as possible.
(2) Little information is provided to the Japanese about retirement,and the Japanese are not preparing much for retirement.
(3) The great majority of Japanese are not in "poor" health.
(4) Japanese are very concerned about their economic situation in retirement.
(5) Japanese are very concerned about their government's ability to provide health care and pension benefits.
(6) Therefore, Japanese have greater concerns and are more pessimistic about their overall "quality of life " than people of other countries, although this pessimism is less prominent among people who have already retired.

According to these surveys, compared to people in other polled countries, the Japanese people have rather negative and pessimistic perceptions of their retirement. However, those of us who have studied Japanese aging policy and elderly are tempted to ask: "Is retirement truly that negative a life experience for the Japanese?" Cultural, social, economic and political systems, national character, and response patterns affect not only people's attitudes but also survey results. It is important to bear in mind that those 10-plus countries surveyed in the two international surveys vary greatly in these respects. The results of these surveys remind us of the enormous challenge we face in correctly interpreting any international survey findings.


AXA Retirement Scope
International Retirement Security Survey

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