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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
Social Trends #58: October 6, 2003

Youth Trends in Japan:
Part Five - "Parasite Singles" and Female Unemployment

Richard Katz (The Oriental Economist)
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

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

Sean Curtin: In the first two parts of the Youth Trends series I have demonstrated that the so called 'parasite singles' phenomenon is in no way unique to Japan as some have argued. In fact, the trend is fairly common and well-documented in many European Union countries.

Richard Katz: I agree with Sean that "parasite singles" are not limited to Japan (by the way, the term itself is problematic).

Sean Curtin: Yes, I also find the term derogatory.

Richard Katz: There is one difference that perhaps Sean could comment on. Among European countries, the percentage of single 20-29 year old females choosing to live with their parents seems to correlate very well with the degree of female unemployment. Those with high female unemployment show higher levels of "parasite single" behavior. But in Japan, this phenomenon began even while unemployment was low. I suspect it relates to the growing gap between rising educational opportunities for women but the lack of employment opportunities commensurate with that education. It also relates to a rising age of marriage as women reject traditional male-female roles in Japan (e.g. long work hours of men).

Sean Curtin: As Richard suggests youth unemployment/changing labour market is just one strand in the complex weave that generates the contemporary social phenomenon dubbed "parasite singles." Other key elements influencing this trend are: (i) longer periods in education; (ii) increasing gender-equality in education; (iii) smaller families/declining fertility rates; (iv) changing concepts about the parent-child relationship/gender roles; (v) prolonged period of partner selection (which basically means women are spending longer searching for their ideal mate); and (vi) late marriage/late births. As the list indicates, gender plays an important part in the equation, reinforcing Richard's hypothesis.

A 2002 report by the Economic and Social Research Council revealed that 50% of Italian men aged 30 and over were still living at home. Although high rates of youth unemployment are an important factor in this trend, research also indicates that many Italians remain in the parental home even after they achieve financial independence. According to demographers, these young Italians enjoy a low level of restrictions on their life styles, minimum domestic responsibility, and household expenses are met by the parents, which all goes to make it too good to leave home. Researchers describe this situation as creating circumstances in which it is "almost unreasonable to leave home." A similar trend may also have developed among some young Japanese women, offering an additional explanation for Richard's observations.

Data produced by the European Union and the Luxembourg Income Study clearly show that the timing at which European young people leave the family home is getter later and later. Furthermore, other studies reveal that like their Japanese counterparts, European youths are more financially depended on their parents than previous generations.

Japanese trends are most similar to those found in Ireland, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece. In all these countries young people leave the family home at a relatively late phase in their lives. Interestingly, kinship patterns and concepts about gender roles also all share strong similarities. This would seem to suggest that in these countries gender plays a particularly important part in the so called "parasite singles" phenomenon.

Youth Trends in Japan

Related Series

Gender Equality in Japanese Education
The Declining Birthrate in Japan
Marriage and Divorce in Today's Japan
Women Advancing in Japanese Society
Trends in Japanese Higher Education
Family Trends in 2003


The Myth of Louis Vuitton - To Rich for their Own Good?
Richard Katz, The Oriental Economist, 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

"Parasite Singles" - A Uniquely Japanese Phenomenon?
Hiroyuki Takahashi and Jeanette Voss, Japan Economic Institute (JEI), 11 August 2000, No. 31

Youth Employment and Parasite Singles
Yuji Genda, Japan Labor Bulletin, 1 March 2000, Vol.39-No.3

Diverse Europe
Richard Berthoud & Maria Lacavou, University of Essex and Economic Social Research Council, November 2002

"Don't Blame the Unmarried Breed,"
Yuji Genda, Japan Echo, June 2002, Vol. 27, No.3

The Growing Crop of Spoiled Singles
Masahiro Yamada, Japan Echo, June 2000, Vol. 27, No. 3

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