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by Yasuharu Dando
Japanese Youth and Women Got Skinny Mainly due to Their Anxieties over Employment
(December 2008) (Japanese edition:November 2008)
Young men who are femininely slim are on increase. It has been considered that such men, just like women, are aspiring to be slim, but there have emerged some evidence that support the view that employment uncertainty is the main factor in making youth and women thinner. The "fattening men and thinning women" trend in Japan, which was deemed extremely peculiar from the rest of the world, was caused by the eating habits affected by worries over employment.
"Size-JPN 2004-2006," which is the measurement results of human body data released by the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry in fall of 2007, triggered our efforts to solve the enigma. When compared with the previous survey in 1992-1994, the prominent trend was that men got fatter while women got thinner at the age of over 30. Here, peculiar phenomena were observed. The Body Mass Index (BMI), which indicates the degree of obesity, and the hip measurement decreased significantly from the previous survey for men aged between 20 and 24, approaching women's values. In the previous survey, a man with a height of, say, 170 cm weighed 64 kg, which is an almost standard weight, but in the latest survey, the weight has gone down to 61 kg. The graph released by the METI is shown.
Some young people are probably eager to lose weight. When the above mentioned peculiar change was observed in a nationwide body measurement, it is reasonable to consider that there are underlying social factors. The environment surrounding the youth must be different from that of middle-aged generation, who are gaining weight on an ongoing basis. The percentages of contingent workers, such as part-time workers and temporary dispatch workers, were studied with reference to "The Number of Employees by Age Groups and Types of Employment" released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and the average percentage for each age group was calculated for the respective body measurement periods of 1992-1994 and 2004-2006. Firstly, refer to the graph for men.
Only the youth aged between 15 and 24 showed a rapid increase in the employment rate of contingent workers, from 21.7% to 43.8%. A slight rise was seen for the older generations, but their stability in employment was obvious from the values: 12.9% for the age group of 25-34, 6.9% for the 35-44 group and 8.4% for the 45-54 group. Meanwhile, how did the employment rate of contingent workers change for women? The graph is shown.
For the female age group of 15-24, the rate doubled to 51.1%, between the two surveys. The contingent percentage increased for older age groups as well. The percentages for women had been already high, but they further increased to 40.6% for the 25-34 age group, 54.8% for the 35-44 age group, and 57.0% for the 45-54 age group. The labour situation is so gloomy that more than half the workers are working as contingent workers. The underlying desire to be slim could certainly be influential to this weight-loss trend as some surveys showed that many women believe that they are fat in spite of their being skinny. The change in BMI, however, indicates several kilograms of weight loss in almost all age groups. It should be concluded that this enormous loss in weight is attributed to employment uncertainty, the same background as young men's.
In the 2006 edition of "The Labour Economy Analysis" released by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, a graph shows that regular workers enjoy rise in wage as they get older while contingent workers see wage remain unchanged or even decline as they reach old age. For example, annual income distribution for temporary dispatch workers peak at 2-2.49 million yen for the under-39 age group, but for the over-40 age group, the dominant wage is 500-990 thousand yen. With half of them working as contingent workers, it is a matter of course that many of young men and women stand on guard out of fears for the future and refrain from consumption and even slashing spending on diet.
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