The rise of the "parasite single" (寄生單身) generation has become a hot topic in the Japanese media. The term refers to those Japanese youngsters who, after graduating from college, neither look for jobs nor get married but continue to live under their parents' wings. They buy cars, travel around, have tea and socialize -- a generation that takes their easy life for granted.
According to a questionnaire conducted by the Japanese Prime Minister's Office in 1997, 60 percent of single men and 80 percent of single women aged between 20 and 34 still live with their parents. Their number approaches 10 million. There are several reasons for this phenomenon. First, these youngster's fathers earn a good living. Second, these singles are quite picky about selecting their future spouses and are therefore less likely to get married. Third, their parents have spoiled them and always protected them from the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
As a result, these spoiled youngsters fail to adapt to the workplace. They resign whenever they are faced with something not to their liking. They place great emphasis on being fashionable. In hot pursuit of material pleasures, they are satisfied with their current lifestyle and lack the will to face challenges.
In comparison, except for children of wealthy families, American or European youngsters are generally more independent. After graduating from college, most no longer depend upon their parents' financial support.
Kanamori Hisao (金森久雄), an eminent Japanese economist, once said, "Economic achievements tend to bring about various negative side effects that will erode the very foundation on which previous success hinges." These side effects include a decline in entrepreneurial spirit, worsening labor-management relations, increased spending, decreased savings rates and a shrinking will to "problem-solve." After a country has become rich through economic development, entrepreneurs may lose their aggressiveness and creativity. Laborers may not work as hard as they did, though they may get higher pay. Intellectuals may lose the will to tackle problems. People begin to rely on their government to solve all the problems.
"Success leads to the erosion of its own causes." The emergence of parasite singles in Japan is by no means coincidental. They do not feel that there is anything wrong with their lifestyle even though, perhaps, they may fear that their prosperity may come to an end. Spoiled by excessive parental care, however, the parasite singles do not know how to cope when the end does come.
A friend of mine, a manager at a Taiwanese company, once told me a story: he had interviewed a young man, a graduate of a well-known national university in northern Taiwan. Noticing a two-year blank period in the man's work experience after military service, my friend asked him, "What were you doing during those two years?"
"Nothing," the young man replied.
"Then you simply stayed at home every day?" my friend continued.
"Was I supposed to be at home?" the young man asked.
My friend persisted, asking "Where did your living expenses come from?"
"From my mom and dad!" the young man replied.
"Did they ever say that there was something wrong with that?" my friend continued.
The young man got angry and asked,"Is it necessary for you to inquire about my family in such detail? Does my financial support have anything to do with your company?"
After the interview, my friend conferred with his colleagues and they agreed that he had gone too far with his questions. They also decided to employ the young man. He performed well, but in less than a year he had decided to resign -- because the chief of his department was only a junior college graduate, although they were both about the same age. The chief, however, had joined the company four years earlier. Other managers tried to talk the young man into changing his mind. The youngster, however, left the company to study abroad, a move financed by his parents.
It is not surprising that many youngsters in Taiwanese society are still sitting on the fence after graduating from college, looking for their "ideal jobs." Parasite singles may soon emerge in Taiwan as well. How should we react to the advent of this new generation?
Sun Piing-yann is a professor in the department of cooperative economics at National Taipei University.
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