Isolation factor rising in Japan

Japan is set to become a lonelier, more isolated country, according to a report earlier this month from the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, and it is unclear whether government policies are taking the change into account.

The institute predicted that one-person households would exceed 30 percent of all households by 2035.

The survey found that already more than 30 percent of people are living alone in 16 prefectures, mainly in eastern Japan. The survey found that, in general, western Japan had a higher number of nuclear families than in eastern Japan.

In larger urban areas, the proportion of households with people living alone has already exceeded the future projected rate. Single-adult households in Tokyo were 45.8 percent, while in Osaka, they were 35.8 percent in the 2010 census.

Overall the survey found that of the total 51.84 million households in 2010, the rate of lone-adult households was highest in 28 out of Japan’s 47 prefectures, compared with the other four categories of households: couple only, nuclear family, single parent and other types of families. The lone-adult household will be the highest in all prefectures by 2025.

Part of the explanation for the shift to single-adult households was the continued increase in the number of unmarried people and the tendency of young people to marry much later.

Other factors such as the need to find work and other economic pressures are also playing a role.

Clearly the old social system of multigenerational and nuclear-family households is in rapid decline, and the way of life in larger cities promotes single-adult households.

The trend is unlikely to be reversed, but the worst effects can be mitigated. First, the government needs to establish policies for providing families with daycare for children and for making it easier for women to return to work after giving birth in order to slow down the trend. That will encourage a nuclear family structure that can support itself.

The rise of lone-adult households among the elderly will mean greater expenses for nursing care and other services. The rate of lone-adult households with individuals over 65 is projected to increase from 9.6 percent in 2010 to 15.4 percent in 2035.

With fewer families in place, the burden of taking care of the elderly may increasingly fall on government-supported services.

Japan, once a family-based, group-oriented society, is becoming a place where people live alone.

Since many of the major social policies of the past were predicated on the nuclear family as the basic unit of society, the government needs to realign its planning to better fit the new realities.