A report on life in various countries put out by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in October offers a great deal of insight into life in Japan in comparison with other developed countries. The report, published biannually, is an important way of considering life beyond economic metrics and government statistics. It found that Japanese life satisfaction overall is below the OECD average.
Japan is relatively strong in many areas of well-being, though. Average household disposable income is close to the OECD average, though overall financial wealth is among the highest. One big problem in Japan is that fixed costs like rent and groceries chew up a relatively large percentage of household budgets for most families.
Japanese employees continue to earn less than workers in other OECD countries. However, they have much higher job security. That trade-off has been a traditional one in Japan, but as workplaces change and changing jobs no longer carries the stigma it once did, workers may no longer be so willing to accept that compact.
The well-being of Japanese children received rather mixed results — mostly bad. Roughly 15 percent of Japanese children live in a household with disposable income less than half of the median. That puts Japan in the bottom third of the OECD countries for child poverty. Japan’s rate of teenagers giving birth is still relatively low, but contrary to other countries, it has increased since 2007. Infant mortality is low, due to relatively good health care, but the adolescent suicide rate stands far above the OECD average.
That suicide rate connects to several other findings about life for children in Japan. Japanese students report a low sense of belonging in school, as well as spending much less time with their parents than the average child in the OECD countries. Japan remains in the bottom third of countries in both of those areas, showing that quality of life for Japanese kids is in many ways inferior to their counterparts in other OECD countries.
Thanks to the Japanese education system, literacy and mathematics skills here are among the highest in the OECD. Despite those high skill levels, educational deprivation in Japan is worse than most other OECD nations. More 15-year-old students in Japan have less than four out of seven educational items, such as a desk or a quiet place to study. Clearly, the government needs to better fund education and help improve conditions for all students.
While there is room for improving well-being in almost every OECD country, elected officials in Japan and the national government should take these disappointing results into consideration when working out policies and budgets in both the short and long term. Unfortunately, though, the survey also found that Japan’s average voter turnout for elections fell from 67.5 percent to 52.7 percent over the past 10 years, one of the lowest in the OECD countries. Political participation might be the first step to improving well-being.
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