The above observation comes from a report in Bloomberg Businessweek about a petty crime spree among Japanese senior citizens. Crime by those over 65 doubled over the last decade, even though the total crime in Japan declined by 17%. According to Yoshiaki Nohara and Andy Sharp, authors of the article, shoplifting accounted for 59% of crimes committed by elderly offenders. Shoplifters in Japan are now more likely to be older than 65 than in the 14-to-19-year old age group that we usually associate with such crimes.
Why the surge in senior pilferage? Businessweek attributes the crime wave to cuts in benefits received by the elderly. The country’s national debt is soaring, and Prime Minister Shinzō Abe plans further cuts to welfare spending, so if anything financial pressures on seniors will increase. It doesn’t help that an additional 4.5 million people will join the ranks of retirees during the next 10 years.
Not all the seniors who shoplift are in financial straits, though. Yuji Ozaki, a security officer at Zenkoku Security Guard in Tokyo, suggests that the traditional support system is breaking down and the elderly are cut off from society. He says, “In the old days, someone used to talk to them when they shopped downtown. But now they only have big stores nearby, and nobody talks to them. I think they get kind of frustrated and do it when they lose interaction with the neighborhood.” In other words, many of the older adults are isolated from others and yearning for interaction. There’s always some way of getting reconnected with society, though, even if it involves pocketing some rice balls or sake.
Japan is the first swelling of the grey tsunami that worldwide is expected to add over 1.2 billion people over age 60 by midcentury. According to the World Bank, 24% of the population of Japan is 65 or older, compared to 17% of the population of France, 14% in the U.S., and 3 % in Kenya. Pretty much all first-world countries are expected to face significant social strains due to aging populations. Let’s hope that doesn’t include a worldwide proliferation of grey-haired criminals!