Financial Discomfort for Japanese Youth
Approximately 70% of Japanese youth struggle with social dissatisfaction because they are “not financially comfortable,” according to a public opinion poll by the government’s Cabinet Office, released earlier this year.
The survey’s results resurfaced in the news this week when Arakawa Kazuhisa (荒川和久), an independent researcher, columnist, and marketing director made headlines on Yahoo! News with an article of his own, drawing attention to the dire circumstances the youth face today–––which according to Arakawa, are not too different from the hardships citizens experienced in the aftermath of 2008 Lehman Shock and financial crisis.
Perusing the Poll
In March this year, the Cabinet Office released its yearly public opinion poll on social awareness, or shakai ishiki ni kansuru yoronchousa (社会意識に関する世論調査).
The poll, which officials have conducted annually since 2009, with 2020 being the only exception due to pandemic complications, looks at citizens aged between 18 and 70 years old.
The poll asks participants a variety of questions to grasp citizens’ attitudes toward Japanese society.
Do you think your sense of patriarchy is relatively strong or weak?
What level of community engagement is desirable?
The poll question that yielded alarming results was: How satisfied are you with the current society as a whole? Or are you not satisfied?
The March results, which are from a poll in 2022, said that both men (56%) and women (67%) in their twenties are reporting higher levels of dissatisfaction compared to previous years–––nearly as high as results in the wake of the Lehman Shock.
Meanwhile, the average figure for dissatisfaction among all age groups did not rise as much.
The poll also asked participants the question: What parts of current society do you find dissatisfactory?
Out of the five multiple-choice options, the answer that attracted the most votes was: the inability to be financially comfortable or have future economic prospects.
Men in their twenties specifically resonated with this reason the most. For women, results from those in their twenties to sixties followed closely behind.
Reminiscent of Lehman
Although dissatisfaction levels were overall higher in 2010 (post-Lehman Shock), more people in 2022 attributed their dissatisfaction to financial discomfort and future economic uncertainty.
The same factor was a notable reason for dissatisfaction in the post-Lehman Shock era as well, but for citizens in their forties–––the so-called parenting generation, or kosodate setai (子育て世帯).
Arakawa offers an interpretation, parsing that Japanese in their twenties today are sensing a similar economic crisis to what people in their forties experienced during the Lehman Shock.
“That is just how bad young people have it today,” Arakawa writes.
Barely getting by
Despite gross salaries having remained the same, the rise of taxes and health insurance costs, compounded with recent price hikes, mean that many young people these days are struggling just to get by.
The percentage of metropolitan citizens in their twenties who own more than the average income is a mere 30%. According to the 2022 Employment Status Survey by the Japan Statistics Bureau, unmarried men in their twenties earn an average yearly salary of less than ¥3,000,000 ($19,938 USD).
The Employment Ice Age, or Shūshoku Hyougaki (就職氷河期) between 1994 and 2004 following the Bubble Economy’s collapse, was a phenomenon in which young people couldn’t find full-time jobs. The problem today is that the youth–––even if employed full-time–––earn less.
Unmarried and Hopeless?
Arakawa brings up one side of the argument regarding plummeting fertility rates: Money isn’t the only reason why you can’t get married. His take is that the higher the income, the sooner a man gets married–––a fact that people shouldn’t forget when Japan not only has a shrinking population but a poor-performing yen.
A Cabinet Office survey in 2018 that involved 13 to 29-year-olds in seven countries (Japan, Korea, the US, the UK, Germany, France, and Sweden) found that Japanese and Korean citizens “don’t want kids.” Japan’s birthrate in 2022 was low–––1.26–––but Korea has the world’s lowest–––0.78.
In a separate survey of countrywide 13 to 29-year-old citizens, in response to the question “Where do you see yourself at age 40?” only 38% answered “I’ll have a successful career” and only 35% said, “I’ll be rich.”
 「リーマンショック時より悪い」経済的な問題で社会に不満を抱いている20代若者が7割. Yahoo!ニュースJAPAN
 「社会意識に関する世論調査」の概要. 内閣府