In the decade and a half from 1980 to 1995, the percentage of single Japanese between the ages of 20 to 34 who were still living together with their parents rose by 13.2 points, from 29.5% to 42.7%. Twenty years on, the figure has continued to rise. In 2012, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the percentage for that age group had reached 48.9%. In terms of numbers, that’s an estimated 13.4 million people.
Unmarried status also rose among people in the age 35 to 44 age segment, from a nearly negligible 2.2% in 1980 to 10% by 2000, and 16.1% in 2012, or roughly 3.05 million people.
It was about 15 years ago, recalls Nikkan Gendai (Feb 14) that Chuo University Professor Masahiro Yamada became celebrated for coining the word “parasite singles” to describe these adults who enjoy cozy lives, delaying or refraining from marriage while continuing to live with their parents.
The term “parasite” may seem overly critical, but those who utilize the term often point out that saving on rent and utilities while living with their parents gives such people additional discretionary income to spend on Hermes, Chanel and other pricey foreign brand goods, and take several overseas vacations a year.
The reason for the popularity of this phenomenon is clear enough: a survey of singles living with parents conducted in 2001 by the Cabinet Office found that 60.6% of females said they were either “satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their unmarried arrangement, as opposed to a considerably lower 16.3% who expressed dissatisfaction. For males, the respective satisfied and dissatisfied figures were 31.3% and 27.9%.
The parasite singles’ happy-go-lucky lifestyles will be coming to an end soon enough.
“About 10 years from now, these single children will be entering their 50s, and their parents will be in their 70s and starting to require care,” warned Yoshimitsu Uehara, who serves as director of the Ikebukuro, Tokyo-based Caregiver Support Association. “From around that time, as the families’ only children, they will have to care for all aspects of their parents’ lives, including financial matters. Problems have already been pointed out in such housing developments as Hikarigaoka and Takashimadaira, where, during the daytime, these single residents have virtually no chance to meet up with nearby neighbors. Once their parents pass away, they will have become completely alienated from the local communities.”
A person with a spouse and children, moreover, can share the tasks associated with caring for an elderly parent, but for singles, this won’t be possible. The implications being that they will have to curtail, or retire, from their jobs. Which means that any financial advantages of living at home they had enjoyed up to that point will be nullified. And as they age, their own physical health also becomes a concern.
A survey conducted by the Cabinet Office in 2012 found that only one out of three female “parasite singles” in their 40s expressed satisfaction with their situations—a decline by nearly from the 25-39 age segment in the 2001 survey. As these singles confront middle age, it’s clear that the appeal of such a lifestyle wears off rapidly.