People in Japan are so averse to romantic relationships that the country's media even has a name for it: sekkusu shinai shokogun, or "celibacy syndrome," according to a widely circulated Guardian story on the country's low rates of marriage, childbearing and even sex.
But this is more than a story about Japan and its cultural quirks: It's a story about the global economy. Japan is the world's third-largest economy, a crucial link in global trade and a significant factor everyone else's economic well-being. It owns almost as much U.S. debt as does China. It's a top trading partner of the U.S., China and lots of other countries. The Japanese economy is in serious enough trouble that it could set the rest of us back. And the biggest source of that trouble is demographic: Japanese people aren't having enough kids to sustain a healthy economy. One big reason they're having fewer kids is that they're not as interested in dating or marrying one another, in part because they're less interested in sex.
Here are a few of the statistics, some from the Guardian story and others from a 2011 report by Japan's population center:
• Extremely high numbers of Japanese do not find sex appealing. 45 percent of women and 25 percent of men, ages 16 to 24, are "not interested in or despised sexual contact."
• More than half of Japanese are single. 49 percent of unmarried women and 61 of unmarried men, ages 18 to 34, are not in any kind of romantic relationship.
• In every age group, the percentage of Japanese men and women who are not in a romantic relationship has been increasing steadily since the 1990s.
• About a quarter of Japanese don't want a romantic relationship. 23 percent of women and 27 percent of men say they are not interested in any kind of romantic relationship.
• More than a third of childbearing-age Japanese have never had sex: 39 percent of women and 36 percent of men, ages 18 to 34. That number hasn't actually changed much over the last decade, but it is unusually high.
• The Japanese population institute projects that women in their early 20s have a 25 percent chance of never marrying and a 40 percent chance of never having kids.
These trends are not new. Since 2006, Japanese women have complained of soshoku danshi or "herbivore men," so called for their lack of interest in the opposite sex. There's an entire industry in Japan that helps men who eschew romantic lives cope with loneliness through relationship-simulating video games and even holiday retreats. See Chico Harlan's great 2010 piece on this.
Japanese women, for their part, often avoid romantic relationships because Japanese laws and social norms can make it extremely difficult for women to have both a family and a career. Japan is extremely unusual in that it is highly educated and wealthy but still has some of the worst systemic gender inequality in the world; it has a European-style economy but South Asian social family mores. Professional women are stuck in the middle of that contradiction. It's not just that day-care programs are scarce: Women who become pregnant or even just marry are so expected to quit work that they can come under enormous social pressure to do so and often find that career advancement becomes impossible. There's a word for married working women: oniyome, or "devil wives."
Because they're forced to choose, inevitably lots of women who might otherwise have a family and a job are only seeking the latter. That sense of pessimism about marriage appears to be partially driving the lack of interest in romantic relationships, and thus in sex. This chart shows common reasons expressed for staying single, by Japanese men and women ages 25 to 34. The shaded bars represent the subsequent national surveys, from 1987 through 2011:
For the rest of the article, including the charts, click HERE.