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And Parental "Hosts" Don't Seem to Mind

May 15, 2000

Japanese people are having fewer and fewer children. In 1998 the average number of children born to a woman over her lifetime dropped to 1.38, the lowest figure ever recorded. Since the children of the first generation of baby boomers are themselves now reaching childbearing age, people are keeping eye on trends in the birthrate with keen expectation.

The Impact of Older Marriages
One factor behind the declining number of children is that people are marrying later. Japan has one of the highest percentages of single people in the world. As of 1995, 92.6% of Japanese men and 86.4% of women aged 20 to 24 were still single, while the figures for those aged 25 to 29 were 66.9% for men and 48.0% for women. By comparison, the figures for the latter age group were just 17.3% and 4.1%, respectively, in China (1987) and 45.2% and 31.1% in the United States (1990).

A growing number of these single people are staying under their parents' roofs, moreover, rather than living on their own. These so-called "parasite singles" depend on their parents for most of their basic needs. In 1995 a majority of single men and women aged 20-24 still lived with their parents, and even, and even in the 25-29 age group, about 40% of men and 35% of women still lived at home. Among unmarried people aged 20 to 34, only 40% of men and 20% of women lived alone.

The parents of this generation worked during Japan's rapid-growth era and are relatively well off. Many own their own homes. They can thus afford to pamper their kids and see no need to drive their "big babies" from the nest. Because of this, the "parasites" see nothing wrong living with their parents and eating the meals prepared for them; they even leave the laundry and housecleaning to their mothers while they use what they earn to travel abroad, buy designer clothes, and lead a carefree life.

Society's Expectations
Grown singles living with their parents tend to be viewed as spoiled rich kids living off mom and dad, but some claim they are simply following tradition. In the past, parents looking after their children until they married was considered normal, and people believed that well-bred single young ladies should live at home. Companies also felt perfectly justified in refusing to hire young women who did not live with their parents.

Custom aside, there are also practical obstacles to living on one's own in Japan. In large cities, rent and other living costs can reach nearly 150,000 yen (around 1,400 U.S. dollars at 105 yen to the dollar)--difficult to manage for a young woman employee with a monthly salary of just 200,000 yen (about 1,900 dollars), the average for working women aged 25 to 29.

The parents of the "parasite singles" belong to a generation in which the woman runs the household. Almost all women of this generation are full-time housewives. They are most in their element when they are doing housework and devoting themselves to their families. So the idea of looking after their children, even after the kids have grown up, does not faze them. Indeed, many even feel it is their purpose in life.

Some mothers are also glad to be able to give their children a lifestyle they themselves have never had. They want their kids to be able to fall in love with whomever they please, work at the job they want, and use the money they earn to buy themselves a high standard of living. In other words, the "hosts" of the "parasites" are not altogether dissatisfied with their children's reluctance to leave the nest. The "parasites" have been left to multiply, therefore, due to a combination of social, demographic, and traditional factors.

Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.