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25.03.2017 г.

Japanese Youth at the Labor Market: Economic and Social Aspects (Part II)

I.P. Lebedeva

The severity of the problems existing in the field of women's employment is also evidenced by the Japanese statistics data. Thus, since the late 1980s the country has seen a rapid growth of the share of young unmarried women: if in 1980 it was 24 % among women aged 25-29 years and 9.1 % among women at the age of 30-34 years, then by 2010 it had risen to 60.3 % and 34.5 %, respectively. Over the same years there was a significant increase in the age at first marriage among Japanese women - from 25.2 years in 1980 to 29.4 years in 2014, as well as the mean age at first childbirth - respectively, from 26.4 to 31.1 years. Finally, the country has a continuing decline in the fertility rate, which dropped to 1.42 by 2014, being one of the lowest among developed countries [13, p. 3, 9].

It is clear that the higher the education status of women the more difficult is the choice between creating a full-fledged family and career. Not surprisingly, the largest number of unmarried Japanese women is observed among those who have received university education and have more chances to build a successful career. While those among them who got married tend to either refuse to have children or confine themselves to having one child. And it is this category of women that is "responsible" for the declining average fertility rate in the country. So, if in the group of unemployed married women the rate is 2.2 and practically unchanged compared to the 1980s, then in the group of working married women - it is only 0.6 [14, p. 162-163].

It is also obvious that there is a direct correlation between the growing number of non-permanently employed Japanese young men and an increase in the share of unmarried women. The fact is that no other developed country has such a deep divide between the permanent and non-permanent forms of employment as Japan - neither in terms of the labor remuneration level and the scope of social guarantees nor in terms of opportunities for skills upgrading and career growth, nor from the viewpoint of social status.[1] This divide formed under the influence of the Japanese system of labor management, which has become widely known as the job-for-life model. Without going into details, here it may just be noted that that the permanent workers were guaranteed stable employment (up to the retirement age, which is now 60 years in most companies), advanced training, promotion through the career ladder with the corresponding wage increase, as well as access to the social security system. In other words, this system has made the life of permanent employees and their families stable and predictable, allowing them to plan their future and gradually implement their life plans.

The job-for-life system was applied in its most complete form (that is, with all elements of employees' material and moral incentives) in large private companies (where it covered both white and blue collars) and in public institutions. However, all other enterprises, including small ones, in order to boost the personnel's labor motivation, tried to apply this system to some extent, extending its principles to a certain group of employees (for example, only to white collars) or using its separate elements. In other words, to a greater or lesser extent, the job-for-life system covered almost the entire contingent of permanent workers (in the late 1980s, about 80 % of all employed persons fell in this category).

Since the lifetime employment system has long been applicable almost exclusively to male employees, it promoted the consolidation of their role of earners, family breadwinners and, consequently, the consolidation of their dominant position in the family and society. Gradually, the image of an ideal young man, the sarariman - a permanent employee of a large company or a government agency who, through diligence and perseverance, was able to enter a prestigious university, finish it and get a job, which guarantees stability and prosperity, took shape in the public perception. It is noteworthy that in the 1970s and 1990s it turned out that the sarariman career was accessible to a very large number of young men. Thus, more than 30 % of young men who finished school in 1976-1985 could become sararimen after their university studies, and 40 % - of the 1986-1995 graduates. In addition, in both cases about a quarter of young men succeeded to some extent in realizing their "Japanese dream", getting white-collar jobs in medium and small companies. It should also be borne in mind that a career similar to that of the sarariman was accessible to the blue-collar workers employed by large companies, and even to part of rank and file workers of small and medium-sized companies [16, p. 16-17].

Although many things have changed since then in the Japanese society, including in the system of youth values, nevertheless the sarariman is still regarded as a symbol of manhood and maturity of a young man. [17, p. 30-32].

It is clear that young men without permanent employment (they are called freeters - the word is coined from the English Free and German Arbeiter) are perceived in the public mind as a certain deviation from the norm, and their social status is considerably lower than that of permanent employees. Their frequent job change (especially motivated by a dislike of a particular job), the absence of clear-cut goals in life are regarded as an indicator of the lack of backbone, as a manifestation of egoism and irresponsibility towards the family and society. While freeter men are young, they are treated with indulgence, but the older they become, the more rigorous attitude they face from the society and the more acutely they feel themselves the discrepancy between their status and the society's expectations. Toward the age of 30, many of them try to change their way of life and find a stable job, but for most of them it turns out to be impossible. Thus, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, after five years of casual work only a quarter of those who want to get permanent employment succeed [8, p. 13].

It is obvious that the growing scale of non-permanent employment among young men causes a reduction in the number of young people whom Japanese girls and their parents can consider worthy suitors. And along with the growing share of unmarried women among Japanese girls, the share of unmarried young men also increases. Thus, the share of unmarried young men aged 25-29 years is 71.8 %, young men aged 30-34 years - 47.3 %, and those in the age group 35-39 years - 35.6 % [13, p. 9].

Changes in the structure of demand for labor occurring on the Japanese labor market also affect other aspects of the life of Japanese youth. In particular, they have to a certain extent devalued education in the eyes of young people as an instrument that guarantees a calm, stable and prosperous life. For a long time, getting permanent employment immediately after graduation (for school graduates - blue collar jobs, for university graduates - white collar jobs) was the main goal for most of the Japanese youth. However, the diminishing permanent job opportunities resulted in a certain erosion of the formerly efficient "educational institution - company" mechanism, and to a certain extent undermined the belief in the inseparable link between the academic success and a successful career. This trend makes itself evident, in particular, in the fact that along with a decrease in the number of graduates who managed to get a permanent job, there is a decrease in the number of those wishing to get a job immediately after graduation. So, in 2015 among graduates of universities the share of those who wanted to find a job immediately was 74 % among women and 67.7 % among men, among graduates of special vocational schools - 62 % and 62 %, respectively, and among women who graduated from two-year colleges - 81.3 % [18].

This, of course, does not mean that the importance of education in the system of values of young Japanese has shrunk: for the majority of them it still remains one of the most important life priorities. Moreover, since practice has shown that the higher the level of education, the easier it is to receive permanent employment, there is a general tendency towards a higher level of education among the Japanese youth, as was stated above.

Changes that have occurred on the labor market, a sharp increase in the number of young people without a permanent job, have also become a factor in the emergence of various kinds of non-standard, unusual for Japan youth groups, whose lifestyle and value orientations contrast sharply with the generally accepted norms and views. There are, for example, the so-called parasite shinguru, or parasite singles. This term was introduced into scientific use in the late 1990s by Japan's well-known sociologist Yamada Masahiro to describe the following category of young people: working only occasionally (for the purpose of receiving funds for entertainment and pocket money), living together with the parents and in their basic needs completely dependent on them.

The so-called nitto, or NEETs (not in Education, Employment or Training) was an even more unusual for Japan group of young people that appeared in the 1990s - 2000s. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare defines nitto as young people aged from 15 to 34 years who are not engaged in anything - neither in study, nor in work, nor in professional retraining. Their number is about 600 thousand people [19]. This environment has also given birth to a special sub-group of young people - the so-called hikikomori, meaning recluses in Japanese. Hikikomori are young people who avoid contact with the outside world, preferring to spend their time at home (mostly in their own room), immersing themselves in the virtual world of manga, anime, computer games, etc. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, there are about 260 thousand families in Japan with children leading hikikomori lifestyles [20, p. 38].

Thus, over the past decade, the situation of Japanese youth has noticeably worsened. The permanent employment level decline in all age cohorts and the increasing number of non-permanent workers, the failure of the previously immaculately working mechanism of employment of school and university graduates, the need for a choice between a career and family for Japanese women with the permanent employment status, a significant decline in the proportion of married persons among young women and men, the emergence of various non-standard youth groups, etc. - all these phenomena indicate that modern Japanese young people live in a qualitatively different, more complex socio-psychological atmosphere. Moreover, if the youth environment was homogeneous enough before, owing to the general growth of well-being and democratization of the education system, now its polarization is increasing. On the one pole there are the young people who managed to get a permanent job and who can count on a safe, calm and predictable life, and on the other - those who, for various reasons, have found themselves outside the permanent employment sphere, and therefore, outside the calm, prosperous life as well. It is this environment that gives rise to the groups of young people whose lifestyles and system of values are in sharp contrast to the common stereotypes of a normal life, successful career, etc. that have taken root in the public mind. The existence of these groups of "non-standard" young people poses a serious social problem, especially in the light of the rapid aging of the country's population and a decline in the working-age population.


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20. Genda Yuji. Koritsu mugyosha : [Solitary Non-Employed Persons]. Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Shimbun Shuppansha, 2013. 236 p.

Received 18.06.2016


Lebedeva Irina P., Doctor of Sciences (Economics), chief researcher, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences. E-mail: Этот e-mail защищен от спам-ботов. Для его просмотра в вашем браузере должна быть включена поддержка Java-script

Japanese Youth at the Labor Market: Economic and Social Aspects

I.P. Lebedeva

The article analyzes the situation established in the past ten years in the youth segment of the Japanese labor market. The author shows shifts in the structure of youth employment as well as differences in the state of different age cohorts and in the character of employment of young men and women. Special attention is being drawn to some social problems that the Japanese youth faces as a result of changes in the structure of demand at the Japanese labor market.

Keywords: youth, forms of employment, social status, marriage and family, "non-standard" groups.


Lebedeva Irina P., Doctor of Sciences (Economics), chief researcher, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences. E-mail: Этот e-mail защищен от спам-ботов. Для его просмотра в вашем браузере должна быть включена поддержка Java-script

[1] Striking facts on this subject are quoted by Professor Morioka Koji in the book "Society where status depends on employment form". It turns out that in some companies, non-regular workers are not allowed to use the canteen, in which regular workers are fed. These facts are all the more surprising because Japanese companies are known for their democracy, their desire to avoid emphasizing the difference in status between the senior management staff, on the one hand, and ordinary workers and employees on the other [15, p. 2-5].

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