The Politics of Population Aging in Germany, Italy, and Japan

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The purpose of this study is to determine the extent to which population aging has led to the emergence of age-based politics in Germany, Italy, and Japan. Many argue that the increase in the share of aged relative to youth has led to the development of gerontocracy--as aging has intensified, so has the political power of the aged. I argue that assuming political power from the size of demographic groups is flawed because political institutions are important vehicles that mediate and articulate the myriad interests of a population. The first pillar of the study explains how different party systems create different pressures for the emergence of age-based politics through the ways they articulate these interests. A second pillar of the study uses recent labor reforms to examine the trajectory of generational winners and losers within the labor policy arena. The study compares quantitative data and includes qualitative reviews of primary source material, such as party doctrine. In Germany, Italy, and Japan, there are few signs that older groups are hijacking the political agenda--gerontocracy is mostly a myth. Labor policy in all three states is adjusting to bring youth into the labor market and reforms often go against the interests of the aged. Though aging issues are present in politics in all three states, the competitive multiparty system in Germany encourages parties to appeal to particular age groups, while Japan's more limited system encourages broad appeals. The fractured Italian system shows signs of both types of appeals. Aging issues do not dominate the agendas of these states and in some cases regional identities are more important than age-based identities. As aging intensifies we should expect that institutions will continue to mediate the interests of different age groups the way they have over the past decade. External pressures, such as those stemming from globalization, will likely continue to encourage convergence in labor policies that bring underutilized groups of all ages into the workforce.