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Home > Special Topics > Social Trends Last Updated: 15:18 03/09/2007
Social Trends #90: October 26, 2004

Poor Families in Today's Japan: Part Four - The Elderly and Lone-mothers Compete for Resources

Yoshio Maya (Professor of Health, Social Care and Insurance Studies, Graduate School of Commerce, Nihon University) and J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)

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


Sean Curtin: Do you think that Japanese welfare policy focuses far too much on the elderly at the expense of other needy groups like lone-mothers? For example, according to the Citizen's Basic Living Survey, single-mother households - that is divorced, separated, widowed or unmarried mothers - are some of the poorest households in Japan. Their incomes are extremely low, even though they have the highest employment rate about 87 percent for this group of women amongst industrially advanced countries. Despite recorded lone-mother poverty, social welfare policy continues to be almost exclusively orientated towards the elderly. In fact, in recent years the only real cuts we have seen in welfare provision have been aimed at struggling lone-mothers and their children. Various studies have shown that a number of social problems stem from the poverty of these families, which is currently increasing. While Prime Minister Koizumi dithered about what to do when it came to bank restructuring, he did not hesitate to reduce the welfare allowances for needy children in August 2002. In fact, these austerity measures for disadvantaged children were actually brought forward by 8 months and were originally meant to be implemented in April 2003. (Related article here.) Reducing the allowances for poor mothers and their children seems to be the only welfare restructuring policy that unities the Koizumi administration.

Yoshio Maya, Professor of Health, Social Care and Insurance Studies, Graduate School of Commerce, Nihon UniversityYoshio Maya: According to statistics from the Ministry of Welfare, recently the share of the number of people who are beneficiaries of means tested benefits and allowances are almost exclusively those in the senior citizen age category. This is because older people belong to the generation who could not pay the premium for the pension schemes which were established in the mid-1960s. For this group of elderly people, the government pays the means tested non-contributory pension. Amongst pensioners, the ratio of this group is increasing. So, that is one point you have to consider. Another point to consider is the social situation of single-mothers in Japan, which I think is quite different from that of single-mothers in Britain. This is because in Japan it is easier for this group of mothers to get a part-time job and the level of remuneration they receive for such work is not so bad. Therefore, the living standard of single-mothers is not so poor and they can manage on an adequate economic level. Also, the average number of children these Japanese mothers have to care for is comparatively low, usually one or two children.

Sean Curtin: I think that from the lone-mothers' perspective, most would respond that the wages they are receiving are not adequate. When you examine at the figures, they indicate that lone-mother households are poorer than elderly households. (Related article here.) I think if you look at the statistics, you will see that elderly households have more financial resources than lone-mother households. In the last decade or so, there definitely appears to have been a shift in the structure of poverty in Japan, away from poor elderly people to poor lone-mother families. Also, there is not a proper means for enforcing maintenance payments which fathers are obliged to pay for their children. (Related article here.) Thus, while they are obliged to pay, they rarely do, meaning mothers and children suffer financially. These are some of the reasons why I feel lone-mother families need to feature more prominently in welfare budgets which at the moment are dominated by expenditure on the elderly.

Yoshio Maya: As I have already outlined, we have to take the entire situation into consideration when deciding policy issues.

Related Social Trend Series
Family Issues and Japanese Social Policy
Family Trends

Profile: Yoshio Maya
Yoshio Maya is a Professor of Health, Social Care and Insurance Studies in the School of Commerce and Graduate School of Commerce at Nihon University. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at Green College, Oxford University. He has held many positions including being a member of the Assessment Committee of Public Corporations in the Ministry of Finance, a Councillor of the Union of National Economic Associations in Japan, the Director of the Japanese Society of Insurance Science, the Executive Director of the Insurance Institute of Keio University and a Councillor of the Public Private Relations Forum. His publications include Health and Mankind in the 21st Century (Nijuisseiki no Kenko to Ningen (2000), Coping with Ageing (edited by Aabha Chaudhary, 2003), Social Security (Shakaihosho-ron) (2004), Health and Welfare (Kenko to Fukushi) (2004).

The above comments were made at Chatham House in London on 22 October 2004

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

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