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Supporting young people for Japan's future

Young people eagerly listen to an entrepreneur speak in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, on Feb. 3. (Mainichi)

Raising a child takes a lot more time than it used to. In days gone by, parents could expect to provide for their child for 18 years before sending them out into the world. Now, there are very few 18-year-olds who can earn enough money to support themselves, and it is quite common to see people remain dependent on their parents at age 20 or 25 -- sometimes even their late 20s.

    According to the results of a 2012 study by Japan's National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, 34 percent of men and 33 percent of women aged 20 to 24 were entirely dependent on their parents to cover living costs. Even in the 25-29 age bracket, 12 percent of men and 11 percent of women were in the same boat.

    Young people can start earning some money in high school with part-time jobs, so perhaps their parents don't need to pay for absolutely everything. Nevertheless, parental support for their kids does not end after 18 years, but now extends to 20 or even 30. In other words, raising a child has become virtually never-ending.

    A parallel phenomenon is the rising age of the people doing the child-rearing. The average age when Japanese women have their first child is going up, and that has been much talked about as one of the causes of the declining birth rate. But when it comes to financially supporting one's children, we also need to focus on the age of fathers. The fathers of 40 percent of the children born in Japan in 2015 were aged 35 or older.

    If a couple has a child at age 35, and it takes 25 years for that child to become independent, the parents will already be 60 by the time their baby boy or girl can live on their own. That is, the parents will have to keep providing for their child until shortly before retirement.

    Added to this are worries about caring for elderly parents. For example, if two generations in a row don't have kids until age 35, no grandchildren would appear until the first-generation parents were 70. In other words, the middle generation would, at the same time, have an infant child and 70-year-old parents. Even if we assume that today's elderly are quite energetic and don't need care until age 80, the youngest member of the family would still be just 10 years old by that point. If that child needed 25 total years of support, that would create a 15-year span -- or until the elderly parents pass away -- where the middle generation was caring for both the child and the elderly parents.

    You might call this the "double-care condition," imposing a double financial and physical load on the middle generation from their 40s to their 60s. By the time this load was lifted, that middle generation would already be entering its silver years. They would never get that relaxed period between their children leaving home and their parents needing care.

    Late marriage and childbearing, followed by a long child-rearing period are not bad things in and of themselves. We have longer lives now, and that's something to be happy about. However, are we thinking about all this in terms of our societal structure or our own life plans?

    Young people can't support themselves, requiring their parents to keep providing for them for a long time, as well as driving the young people to delay their own childbearing. That in turn further delays the birth of the next generation, creating a negative cycle.

    Thus, from the perspective of the middle generation, to which I myself belong, isn't it necessary to support young people to become independent earlier? I hope to see real policies to help Japan's youth. (By Aya Abe, professor, Tokyo Metropolitan University)

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