Japan turns off, tunes in, and drops out
The UK Guardian has a remarkable article about the end stage of Japan’s demographic death spiral, in which young people have not only given up on marriage and the family, but are losing interest in sex:
The number of single people has reached a record high. A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all. (There are no figures for same-sex relationships.)
Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan – a country mostly free of religious morals – sex fares no better. A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact”. More than a quarter of men felt the same way.
This, in a nation that just sold more adult incontinence diapers than baby diapers over the course of a year. The Guardian piece attributes this decline in romantic interest to a combination of cultural and government influence:
Marriage has become a minefield of unattractive choices. Japanese men have become less career-driven, and less solvent, as lifetime job security has waned. Japanese women have become more independent and ambitious. Yet conservative attitudes in the home and workplace persist. Japan’s punishing corporate world makes it almost impossible for women to combine a career and family, while children are unaffordable unless both parents work. Cohabiting or unmarried parenthood is still unusual, dogged by bureaucratic disapproval.
Some of the specific factors in Japan will sound all too familiar to American ears: more time spent online by shut-ins, adult children living at home with their parents, and policies that make it difficult for many young people to afford anything but a single, childless existence. They have a lot of things to spend their disposable income on, which makes giving it all up to marry and raise children seem like an increasingly pointless bummer.
With due allowance made for the cultural differences between Japan and America, there is still much here for the American reader to reflect upon. One of the consistently frustrating aspects of our marriage wars is that we’ve largely forgotten how difficult it is to create and maintain a stable marriage, and raise children – especially more than two of them, a feat that is vitally necessary for social health and population maintenance.
Society has a vested interest in actively encouraging such stable, productive unions; they really aren’t just one of many “lifestyle choices.” This is not to denigrate people who don’t get married and raise a sizable brood of children. Rather, it means we should attach elevated importance and respect to the people who do. It is essential to actively encourage such life choices, through both law and culture, because there are many reasons for young people to choose differently. The Guardian mentions relaxed moral standards and a dearth of religious influence in Japan. Take those forces away, give young people sound reasons to remain single, and who can truly be surprised at the result?
The most eye-opening development is the growing sense among Japanese youth that even the most casual form of sexual connection is more trouble than it’s worth (that’s the literal translation of the phrase they commonly use when dismissing the opposite sex.) But is even that truly surprising? Random hookups are unsatisfying, and without emotional nourishment, physical release becomes a problem that can be solved efficiently.
What’s happening in Japan is a fairly logical end-stage result of the failure to appreciate and encourage large, stable families. Eventually one reaches the point where it is simply logical to remain unattached forever. The young Japanese interviewed by the Guardian sound sensible and comfortable with their decision. The absence of wistfulness and angst is chilling. They have grown comfortable with something that a civilization cannot afford to be comfortable with, not on a massive scale.
It all comes down to a form of extended childhood. The young people interviewed by the Guardian are intelligent, articulate, and generally well-educated, but they are children, provided with a combination of indulgences and economic pressures that nudge them into permanent adolescence. There are similar forces at work in demographic groups across the Western world. It has been made possible for grown men and women to remain teenagers until they become senior citizens.
Which is very bad news, especially in social and economic systems where the young are expected to generate wealth that can be skimmed for the benefit of elderly retirees. The future belongs to the children… but it can only be delivered to them by adults. The endgame for perpetual, childless, unmarried youth is a mausoleum with a video-game arcade.