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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
Social Trends #40: June 4, 2003

Youth Trends in Japan: Part Three
Increasing Unemployment and Poor Work Opportunities

J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

A full list of articles in this series can be found here.


One of the major factors influencing trends amongst young people in contemporary Japan is the extremely poor employment market. Youth unemployment is currently at record highs and according to government projections the situation looks likely to get worse. Furthermore, in the last decade the employment market itself has rapidly deteriorated with a great deal fewer regular jobs now available for young adults. Low-paid, part-time work is increasingly the only option for a growing number of young people. These ongoing changes are having an immense impact on the lives of today's young adults and in future decades will have a substantive influence on Japanese society as a whole. At present, some of the most visible manifestations of the changing employment market on the lives of young people are (i) an increasing inability to form an independent household resulting in many young people living with their parents for longer than in previous generations (see Part One), (ii) late marriage leading to lower birthrates (Social Trends Series #19), and (iii) changing attitudes towards the nature of work.

According to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, 2002 was the toughest job-market year ever faced by students graduating from high school. As of 31 December 2002, 33% of high school students graduating in March 2003 had failed to find a job. Not surprisingly, the subsequent March 2003 unemployment statistics show that youth unemployment (people aged 15 to 24) stood at a massive 13.2%. This was the highest unemployment rate since recording such data began back in 1953. The overall jobless rate for both March and April 2003 was 5.4% or about 3.85 million people. The number of unemployed aged 15 to 24 was 840,000 in April 2003, having risen by 40,000 compared with a year earlier. The April figure was slightly lower than the record 880,000 registered in March.

In a recent report on the unemployment situation by the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications it was officially noted that "unemployment among youths is increasing." Recent data shows that GDP growth fell to almost zero in the first quarter of 2003, indicating that the outlook for the economy is bleak. Therefore, youth unemployment is likely to climb.

While the youth unemployment figures are grim reading, the employment market is also a far less inviting place than it was just a decade ago. This fact was highlighted in the government's annual national life report that this year was entitled "Deflation and Daily Life - Young 'Freeters' at Present" and was published at the end of May 2003. In Japan the term 'freeter' is frequently used to describe young part-time workers. The government defines the term as meaning a part-time worker aged between 15 and 34 or a jobless person willing to work.

According to the national life report, the number of part-time workers aged between 15 and 34 reached an astonishing 4.17 million people in 2001. This is a meteoric rise compared with the 1.83 million such workers in this age band in 1990. Moreover, the 2001 figure represents 21.2% of all people aged between 15 and 34, excluding students and housewives. Compared with 1990, this 2001 figure was equivalent to a 10.1% increase.

The same report also reveals that over 85% of part-time workers earn less than 2 million yen a year and with wage levels rising little over the employment period. This level is well below the poverty line and it would be very difficult to sustain a household on such a meager income. As was discussed in the two earlier parts of this series (see references), this is one of the factors explaining why today's young people tend to leave the family home at a much later age than in pervious generations. European research has also shown that becoming economically independent at a later age leads to late marriage trends that usually result in lower birth rates (Social Trends Series #19). It can be seen that the current employment market is not only creating many problems for young people who are forced to adapt their work patterns and life styles accordingly, but it is also changing the basic fabric of Japanese society.


Other articles in the Youth Trends in Japan Series

Youth Trends in Japan: Part One "Parasite Singles" in the International Context
Social Trends: Series #38, GLOCOM Platform, 26 May 2003


Youth Trends in Japan: Part Two "Parasite Singles" in Europe and Japan
J. Sean Curtin & Michael Kavanagh, Social Trends: Series #39, GLOCOM Platform, 26 May 2003


The Declining Birthrate in Japan: Part Three Italy-Japan Comparisons
J. Sean Curtin, Richard J. Samuels and William T. Stonehill, Social Trends: Series #19, GLOCOM Platform, 11 December 2002


Comment: A Fuller Understanding of "Parasite Singles"
Daniel P. Dolan, Debates, GLOCOM Platform, 2 June 2003


Changing Attitudes towards Gender Roles in Japan: 2002 Snapshot
Social Trends: Series #8, GLOCOM Platform, 24 September 2002


Teenage Sexual Trends Create Health Concerns
Social Trends: Series #2, GLOCOM Platform, 13 August 2002

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