This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Clearing Up the Mystery of the Missing Japanese Centenarians

In September 2010 there was a media frenzy over the finding that a bunch of Japanese centenarians had gone missing--as I noted at the time. This month a paper was published in the online demographic journal Demographic Research that seeks to explain what happened and what it might mean for calculations of life expectancy in Japan. The authors, Yasuhiko Saito, Vanessa Yong, and Jean-Marie Robine, worked to sort out fact from mere speculaton. The 234,000 missing centenarians were, in fact, still in the Japanese Family Register System without having been crossed off that list when they died, but the authors found that there were several other sources of records where the "truth" might lie, including especially the census. So, while there really was some fraudulent activity going on with respect to older family members who were really dead, but whose death had not been reported to the Family Register System so that pensions would keep rolling in, for the most part this was much ado about nothing.

Even more importantly, according to a press release from the Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare’s Vital and Health Statistics Division, which compiles the nation’s life expectancy statistics, the estimates of life expectancy are computed based on Census data, the Resident Registry, and vital statistics. Because the 234,354 missing centenarians, as reported, were based on the Family Register System, which was not used as a data source in the life expectancy calculation, their impact on life expectancy statistics is effectively nil. 
Thus, the mystery appears to be solved and, from a demographic perspective, the important takeaway is that Japan still has the world's highest life expectancy, even after we account for the missing old folks.

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