Social Security as Viewed through Micro-data

Part 10: Challenges for the Future

Consulting Fellow, RIETI

The Japanese Study of Aging and Retirement (JSTAR) is Japan's first multidisciplinary, longitudinal, and internationally-comparable panel survey of middle-aged and elderly people. However, the JSTAR survey is still in its early stage and is faced with many problems that need to be solved. In the ongoing third wave of the JSTAR survey in 2011, we will collect data from a sample of about 8,000 individuals from 10 municipalities in various parts of the country. The scope of coverage—both in the number of respondents and the number of participating municipalities—has expanded compared to that in the first wave. However, considering the organizational and financial resources devoted to this project, which are far too small compared to those for similar overseas projects, the fragility of the JSTAR project is undeniable.

Going forward, two directions should be emphasized. One direction is to establish linkage with specific government policies. In the United States, evidence from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) must be presented to make any reforms to the social security policy. This shows the country's adherence to policymaking based on evidence and policy implementation through scientific discussion.

In contrast, it is hard to say that Japanese government policies—not limited to those in the social security field—are based on solid empirical evidence. One of the biggest reasons behind this is the lack of datasets as public goods commonly accessible to those in the public and private sectors. The JSTAR is to fill in this void in the field of social security. This will enable anyone to examine policy effects thereby providing a foundation for more constructive policy discussion.

The second direction is to serve international needs. Japan needs to contribute to the world by enhancing the JSTAR database and analyzing its valuable experience as an aging society. International comparative research is essential to achieving this end. Indeed, an international symposium on population aging co-hosted by RIETI and the RAND Corporation of the United States in July 2011 provided an opportunity to reaffirm the keen interest of overseas researchers in the JSTAR survey.

In particular, we should place greater emphasis on comparisons with other Asian countries going forward. Similar surveys—the Korean Longitudinal Study of Ageing (KLoSA) in South Korea, the Chinese Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS) in China, and the Longitudinal Aging Study in India (LASI) in India—are already underway. Because population aging is to occur more rapidly in Asia than in the United States and Europe, lessons and wisdom derived from Asian experiences can contribute greatly to addressing common challenges facing the world. In addition, Japan should step up efforts to develop and propose new survey methods in a constructive manner.

The JSTAR not only contributes to the social security system reform in Japan but also offers a great opportunity for the world to discover new scientific knowledge. The approach of "viewing through micro-data" provides a common, empirically-validated ground not only for the social security policy discussion but also for government policy discussions in general, which are prone to be preoccupied by the question of how to secure financial resources involved. In this regard, the JSTAR can provide crucial momentum to change the entire system of policymaking in Japan.

>> Original text in Japanese

* Translated by RIETI from the original Japanese "Yasashii Keizaigaku" column in the September 23, 2011 issue of Nihon Keizai Shimbun.

September 23, 2011