From the extended family to the nuclear family in the 20th century; from the nuclear family to solitude in the 21st -- by 2030, reports Sapio (Oct 13-20), 37.4% of Japanese households will be single-occupant. As of now, single-occupant and family households (parents with children) are in rough balance. By 2030, the latter will have fallen far behind, to 21.9%. Two-person husband-and-wife households are projected to comprise 19.2%.
Why the dramatic rise of solitary living? It’s where numerous converging social trends seem to be pushing us, explains researcher Katsuhiko Fujimori in Sapio – fewer marriages, more divorces, fewer couples having fewer children, more grown children living far from their aging parents, and so on.
The question Fujimori poses is, what are the implications of vast numbers of people aging alone? It’s a problem no society has ever faced before. Japan, as the world’s most rapidly aging country, must stand at the vanguard, devise a solution, and show the rest of the world the way. The wait-and-see attitude it seems to be adopting will not be tenable for long.
The best short-term solution, for society as a whole if not necessarily for the individuals involved, would be for people to marry as a matter of course, as they used to. That sounds impossible but may not be, given polls that consistently show some 80% of single men and women in their 40s would marry “if they met the right partner.” Clearly, marriage still has appeal. It’s the “if” that’s the rub. Women, financially independent now as they were not in earlier times, no longer have to marry, and can hold out, indefinitely if necessary, for better terms. Men, too, for that matter, find that much of the sting has been removed from bachelor living – convenience store bentos make meals easy if not delectable, and loneliness can to some extent be beguiled online.
Fujimori points to three problems beyond those and similar day-to-day considerations. First, poverty. Astonishing as it would have seemed 30 years ago, Japan for many of its citizens is now a poor country. Married poverty is easier. The benefits of mutual encouragement aside, if you’re a poor couple, at least one of you is likely to be employed; you scrape by somehow. As an unemployed single, you face potentially dire straits.
Second, nursing care. Health ministry figures show that for 70% of care recipients, the caregiver is a family member. Japan’s care system is premised on family involvement. It is not set up to accommodate masses of family-less care-dependent people. And there is no sign of it being set up for it any time soon.
Third, aging singles tend to lose touch with the outside world, with all the psychological problems that invites. Stronger community ties are a must, says Fujimori. Once, such ties were spontaneous and natural. Now that they no longer are. What can be done to foster them?© Japan Today