August 7, 2001
From: “J. Sean Curtin” <email@example.com>
Parasite Singles: International Perspective and Analysis
A new study conducted in the UK provides some excellent comparative material on the ‘parasite singles’ issue which has been discussed in the Japanese media over the past year. A ‘parasite single’ is the rather unkind label given to young Japanese people who continue to live with their parents for a longer period of time than in previous generations. This new research complements the counter arguments that have already been made against the theory. The UK study shows a very similar trend in Britain, but the English researchers refrain from adopting such an unflattering term. Although no recent research has been done on how long Southern European children live with their parents, previous research indicates that trends are very similar to Japan. This leads me to wonder if there was ever any real substance to the parasite singles notion apart from a catchy name and a lucrative publishing deal?
UK survey results:
The Parasite Singles Theory
In October 1999, Yamada Masahiro published a book titled Parasaito shinguru
no jidai (The Age of “Parasite” Singles (Japanese):
According to Yamada parasite singles are young men and women who continue
living with their parents and who enjoy a carefree and well-to-do life style
as singles. He believes that the so called parasite singles phenomenon is
the most striking feature of the young generation. He points out that as
many as 60% of single men and 80% of single women between the ages of 20 and 34 live with their parents. Using figures from the 1995 national census he calculates that 5 million men and 5 million women, belong to this group. Yamada predicts that given the steady rise in the proportion of people not marrying, parasite singles will likely account for 10% of the Japanese population in 2000. He thinks these so called parasite singles will have “a major impact on Japanese society and the economy and also cast a shadow on the health of society in the future.” Yamada blames these young people for the economic slump and the declining birthrate, concluding they will have a major impact on Japanese society.
For a presentation of Yamada’s views in English see the Japan Echo article:
(The Growing Crop of Spoiled Singles)
Counter Arguments to the Parasite Single Notion
Yamada’s controversial views do not go unchallenged and Yuji Genda gives an excellent point by point analysis of the flaws in Yamada’s thesis in the same issue of Japan Echo (Vol. 27, No. 3, June 2000): “Don’t Blame the Unmarried Breed”
Amongst other things, Genda points out the employment situation for young people has become extremely serious with unemployment for people in their twenties exceeding US levels. Unemployment is forcing many young people to remain at home, not a desire for a luxurious lifestyle. The whole concepts of ‘parasite singles’ appears highly questionable. The UK research adds an international perspective to Genda’s counterarguments.
Summary of theory and counter arguments:
Parasite Singles in the Media
Despite Genda’s excellent analysis of the weaknesses in Yamada’s ideas, the Japanese media soon picked up on this idea. Yamada also embarked on a series of lucrative lectures to publicize his ideas around the nation. Blaming indolent youth for the nations woes seem irresistible for some elements of the media.
Parasite singles issue in the English language media:
Young Japanese can even check if they meet the criteria for a parasite
Discussion in the media (Japanese):
UK Research Finds ‘Parasite Singles’
Recently published UK research adds an interesting comparative perspective to the Japanese debate. Children in the UK are staying at home with their parents longer than ever before and continuing to rely on them financially. A survey found that four decades ago, only one in five young adults received cash handouts of up to 100 British pounds from parents after leaving home. However, today half of them get this financial help. The bankrolling does not stop with token sums of money, with more than a third of 18 to 24-year-olds receiving parental help in paying their rent or mortgage (housing loan). This compares with only 6% having the same help when they needed it 40 years ago. Today, British young people start working later, are more likely to interrupt their working career to travel and there are more career transitions than ever before. There is also a significant delay in marriage compared to previous generations and a subsequent rise in shared households. The findings were taken from the report Complicated Lives II - The Price of Complexity, commissioned by Abbey National from the Future Foundation.
It would appear that the trend of leaving the family home later than in previous generations is not confined simply to Japan.
J. Sean Curtin
August 8, 2001
Dr Michael Ashkenazi commented:
…youngster staying at parents home correlates strongly with the
availability of affordable rental housing: this is certainly the case
in Spain and in Italy (and, of course, Japan).
From a family studies perspective, Japan fits in fairly well with family structures seen in Southern Europe (Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal). In fact, when direct comparisons are made with Southern Europe, there is nothing particularly unique about the Japanese family. This fact is often overlooked by some journalist who only seem to compare Japan with the USA. It is certainly worth noting that the term “Western family” should also include European family models. When this is done such concepts as parasite singles often turn out to be non-starters.
J. Sean Curtin
August 10, 2001
I would like to remind readers of the continuing existence of a virtual JEI and the archive of the last several years of publications at www.jei.org. Last year, we published a comprehensive report on the parasite singles issue, including international comparisons.
An HTML version is available at
A PDF version can be found at:
The main points of that review have been supported by new research as discussed in this forum in the past few days. The Japanese phenomenon is not unique among advanced countries, but can be explained by a combination of demographic-geographical trends and economics.