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Japan performs well across a number of well-being dimensions relative to other countries in the Better Life Index. Japan outperforms the average in education, safety and environmental quality. It underperforms average in income, social connections, civic engagement and life satisfaction. These assessments are based on available selected data.
Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In Japan, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is USD 28 872 a year, less than the OECD average of USD 30 490 a year.
In terms of employment, about 77% of people aged 15 to 64 in Japan have a paid job, above the OECD employment average of 66%. Some 84% of men are in paid work, compared with 71% of women. In Japan, more employees work very long hours in paid work than the OECD average of 10%.
Good education and skills are important requisites for finding a job. In Japan, more adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education than the OECD average of 79%. In terms of the quality of the education system, the average student scored 520 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This score is higher than the OECD average of 488. On average in Japan, girls outperformed boys by 3 points, below the average OECD gap of 5 points.
In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in Japan is around 84 years, three years higher than the OECD average of 81 years. Life expectancy for women is 88 years, compared with 81 for men. The level of atmospheric PM2.5 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 13.7 micrograms per cubic meter, slightly below the OECD average of 14 micrograms per cubic meter. In Japan, 87% of people say they are satisfied with the quality of their water, higher than the OECD average of 84%.
Concerning the public sphere, there is a moderate sense of community and moderate levels of civic participation in Japan, where 89% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, less than the OECD average of 91%. Voter turnout, a measure of citizens' participation in the political process, was 53% during recent elections, lower than the OECD average of 69%. Social and economic status can affect voting rates; voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is an estimated 53% and for the bottom 20% it is an estimated 49%.
When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, Japanese people gave it a 6.1 grade on average, lower than the OECD average of 6.7.
OECD in Action
OECD Economic Surveys: Japan
OECD’s periodic surveys of the Japanese economy. Each edition surveys the major challenges faced by the country, evaluates the short-term outlook, and makes specific policy recommendations. Special chapters take a more detailed look at specific challenges. Extensive statistical information is included in charts and graphs.Read this report
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Japan in Detail
Housing – Japan expand
Living in satisfactory housing conditions is one of the most important aspects of people's lives. Housing is essential to meet basic needs, such as shelter, but it is not just a question of four walls and a roof. Housing should offer a place to sleep and rest where people feel safe and have privacy and personal space; somewhere they can raise a family. All of these elements help make a house a home. And of course there is the question whether people can afford adequate housing.
Housing costs take up a large share of the household budget and represent the largest single expenditure for many individuals and families, by the time you add up elements such as rent, gas, electricity, water, furniture or repairs. In Japan, households on average spend 22% of their gross adjusted disposable income on keeping a roof over their heads, above the OECD average of 20%.
In addition to housing costs it is also important to examine living conditions, such as the average number of rooms shared per person and whether households have access to basic facilities. The number of rooms in a dwelling, divided by the number of persons living there, indicates whether residents are living in crowded conditions. Overcrowded housing may have a negative impact on physical and mental health, relations with others and children's development. In addition, dense living conditions are often a sign of inadequate water and sewage supply. In Japan, the average home contains 1.9 rooms per person, higher the OECD average of 1.7 rooms per person. In terms of basic facilities, 93.6% of dwellings in Japan contain private access to an indoor flushing toilet, less than the OECD average of 97%.
More ResourcesHow's Life?: Measuring Well-being
Income – Japan expand
While money may not buy happiness, it is an important means to achieving higher living standards and thus greater well-being. Higher economic wealth may also improve access to quality education, health care and housing.
Household net adjusted disposable income is the amount of money that a household earns each year after taxes and transfers. It represents the money available to a household for spending on goods or services. In Japan, the average household net adjusted disposable income per capita is USD 28 872 a year, lower than the OECD average of USD 30 490.
Household net wealth is the total value of a household's financial and non-financial worth, such as money or shares held in bank accounts, the principal residence, other real estate properties, vehicles, valuables and other non-financial assets (e.g other consumer durables). In Japan, the average household net wealth is estimated at USD 294 735, lower than the OECD average of USD 323 960.
More ResourcesHow's Life?: Measuring Well-being
Jobs – Japan expand
Having a job brings many important benefits, including: providing a source of income, improving social inclusion, fulfilling one's own aspirations, building self-esteem and developing skills and competencies. In Japan, 77% of the working-age population aged 15 to 64 has a paid job. This figure is higher than the OECD employment average of 66%.
Unemployed persons are defined as those who are not currently working but are willing to do so and actively searching for work. Long-term unemployment can have a large negative effect on feelings of well-being and self-worth and result in a loss of skills, further reducing employability. In Japan, the percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for a year or longer is currently at nearly 0.8%, lower than the OECD average of 1.3%.
The wages and other monetary benefits that come with employment are an important aspect of job quality. Japanese people earn USD 38 515 per year on average, less than the OECD average of USD 49 165.
Another essential factor of employment quality is job security, in terms of expected loss of earnings when someone becomes unemployed. This includes how likely you are to lose your job, how long you are likely to remain unemployed and how much financial assistance you can expect from government. Workers facing a high risk of job loss are more vulnerable, especially in countries with smaller social safety nets. In Japan, workers face an expected 2.7% loss of earnings if they become unemployed, much lower than the OECD average of 5.1%.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Reaching young jobseekers
High-school graduates in Japan traditionally get on-the-job vocational training . These placements are organised by schools and the public employment service, Hello Work. The programme has been highly successful, with nearly 98% of those who entered the programme placed with an employer by the end of the 2015-16 academic year.
Job Cafés provide young people with a one-stop employment service centre. Hello Work branches are available at some of the cafés and offer work placement services. People can also access matching services, collective information seminars, individual counselling, résumé preparation, training in interview techniques, and aptitude tests. This is particularly helpful for young people with higher education who are not eligible for the vocational training programme. Job Cafés are managed by Japanese prefectures with co-operation from local firms and educational institutions so that advice can be adapted to reflect the technical skills needed by local industry. By 2014, 110 centres (cafés) and 39 Hello Work branches were operational in 46 prefectures, reaching nearly 1.68 million young people annually.
Supporting skills development and employment
The Chiba Vocational Training Support Center – Polytechnic Center Chiba (PPC) is a public vocational training institution that protects elderly employment, promotes vocational independence of persons with disabilities, and promotes assistant services and training courses. The PCC operates in four areas: training courses for jobseekers (available for jobseekers in general); training courses for workers; consultation and assistance for employers; and jobseekers support training (targeted to non-EI recipients). The employment rate of 715 jobseekers following training was 90.3%; 1 003 workers were enrolled in training courses to advance skills; and jobseekers support training provided 343 courses to 7 902 trainees in 2012. On average, 75% of trainees find a permanent job as training is closely designed to local needs.
More ResourcesHow's Life?: Measuring Well-being OECD Job Quality Database
Community – Japan expand
Humans are social creatures. The frequency of our contact with others and the quality of our personal relationships are thus crucial determinants of our well-being.
A strong social network, or community, can provide emotional support during both good and bad times as well as provide access to jobs, services and other material opportunities. In Japan, 89% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, lower than the OECD average of 91%.
A weak social network can result in limited economic opportunities, a lack of contact with others, and eventually, feelings of isolation. Socially isolated individuals face difficulties integrating into society as a contributing member and fulfilling personal aspirations.
More ResourcesHow's Life?: Measuring Well-being OECD Insights: Human Capital
Education – Japan expand
A well-educated and well-trained population is essential for a country's social and economic well-being. Education plays a key role in providing individuals with the knowledge, skills and competences needed to participate effectively in society and in the economy. Having a good education greatly improves the likelihood of finding a job and earning enough money. The Japanese can expect to go through 16.4 years of education between the ages of 5 and 39, less than the OECD average of 18 years.
Graduating from upper secondary education has become increasingly important in all countries, as the skills needed in the labour market are becoming more knowledge-based. High-school graduation rates therefore provide a good indication of whether a country is preparing its students to meet the minimum requirements of the job market. In Japan, the number of adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education is higher than the OECD average of 78%
The OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reviews the extent to which students have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. In 2018, PISA focused on examining students' reading ability, skills in maths and level in sciences, as research shows that these skills are more reliable predictors of economic and social well-being than the number of years spent in school.
Japan is a top-performing OECD country in reading literacy, maths and sciences with the average student scoring 520, well above the OECD average 488. The best-performing school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Changing educational practices
Following the March 2011 earthquake in the Tohoku region, in northern Japan, the national, regional and local governments, together with the OECD, launched the OECD-Tohoku School project, to help students and teachers in the region strengthen 21st century skills, internationalisation and bottom-up innovation.
The Tohoku School project has resulted in an open "innovation framework" characterised by distributed leadership, encouragement of internal diversity in local initiatives, voluntary experimentation with new pedagogies, and a strengthened sense of ownership among the participants. For example, in northern Fukushima, the project has begun to inspire changes involving external partners, such as business leaders and international partners, and encouraged co-operation between schools and the communities around them. Teachers work with their students and their communities on a problem threatening the livelihood of local farmers, as rumours about pollution have made it have to sell food grown there. Students and farmers worked together towards a solution, finally coming up with a fruit jelly, which has been selling well throughout Japan. For the farmers, this has meant a new future and hope, and for the students it has facilitated a shift from exam-focused academic study towards entrepreneurship, critical thinking, creativity and engaging with the community.
More ResourcesHow's Life?: Measuring Well-being
Environment – Japan expand
The quality of our local living environment has a direct impact on our health and well-being. Outdoor air pollution is one important environmental issue that directly affects the quality of people's lives. Despite national and international interventions and decreases in major pollutant emissions, the health impacts of urban air pollution continue to worsen, with air pollution set to become the top environmental cause of premature mortality globally by 2050. Air pollution in urban centres, often caused by transport and the use of small-scale burning of wood or coal, is linked to a range of health problems, from minor eye irritation to upper respiratory symptoms in the short-term and chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer in the long-term. Children and the elderly may be particularly vulnerable.
PM2.5 10 – tiny particulate matter small enough to be inhaled into the deepest part of the lung – is monitored in OECD countries because it can harm human health and reduce life expectancy. In Japan, PM2.5 levels are 13.7 micrograms per cubic meter, slightly lower than the OECD average of 14 micrograms per cubic meter and higher than the annual guideline limit of 10 micrograms per cubic meter set by the World Health Organization.
Access to clean water is fundamental to human well-being. Despite significant progress in OECD countries in reducing water pollution, improvements in freshwater quality are not always easy to discern. In Japan, 87% of people say they are satisfied with water quality, higher than the OECD average of 84%.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Smart water management
Fukuoka city created an extensive water infrastructure network to meet growing demand for water. The Water Distribution Control Centre monitors and controls water pressure gauges, flow meters and electric valves in the 21 blocks that make up the water service area. The system has been modified repeatedly over the years to address ageing facilities and adapt to demographic changes. The centre can now adjust water pressure based on the level of demand in the relevant block. This improvement has lowered water pressure in the entire system and saved an estimated 4 000 m3-5 000 m3 of water leakage every day. If any part of the system experiences damage, the water supply can be cut off immediately, further minimising water loss.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Guideline on the Promotion of Efficient Water Usage promotes the installation of non-potable water and rainwater systems. The Business Standards Act, which eases floor-area restrictions, and subsidies for buildings that implement these systems support this initiative. Reliance on surface water has since been reduced and the public is more aware of the importance of saving water. By 2012, 408 facilities had installed in-building recycling systems, 360 had industrial water systems and 1 335 had rainwater systems. Half of the Tokyo Dome’s (stadium) total demand of water is supplied by stored rainwater and a recycling-type water system.
More ResourcesHow's Life?: Measuring Well-being OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050
Governance – Japan expand
Trust in government is essential for social cohesion and well-being. High voter turnout is a measure of citizens' participation in the political process. In the most recent elections for which data are available, voter turnout in Japan was 53% of those registered. This figure is lower than the OECD average of 69%.
Broader public engagement in the decision-making process is also important for holding the government to account and maintaining confidence in public institutions. The formal process for public engagement in developing laws and regulations is one way to measure the extent to which people can become involved in government decisions on key issues that affect their lives. In Japan, the level of stakeholder engagement in developing regulations is 1.4 (on a scale between 0 and 4); lower than the OECD average of 2.1.
More ResourcesHow's Life?: Measuring Well-being Regulatory Policy Outlook: Japan
Health – Japan expand
Most OECD countries have enjoyed large gains in life expectancy over the past decades, thanks to improvements in living conditions, public health interventions and progress in medical care. Japan enjoys one of the highest life expectancies among OECD countries at just above 84 years, three years above the OECD average of 81 years. Higher life expectancy is generally associated with higher health care spending per person, although many other factors have an impact on life expectancy (such as living standards, lifestyles, education and environmental factors).
When asked "How is your health in general?" only around 37% of people in Japan reported to be in good health, much less than the OECD average of 68%, and one of the lowest scores in the OECD. Caution is required in making cross-country comparisons as the assessment can be affected by factors as cultural background. Despite the subjective nature of this question, answers have been found to be a good predictor of people's future health care use. Gender, age and social status may affect answers to this question.
Life Satisfaction – Japan expand
Happiness or subjective well-being can be measured in terms of life satisfaction, the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and the absence of negative experiences and feelings. Such measures, while subjective, are a useful complement to objective data to compare the quality of life across countries.
Life satisfaction measures how people evaluate their life as a whole rather than their current feelings. When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, the Japanese on average gave it a 6.1 grade, lower than the OECD average of 6.7.
Safety – Japan expand
Personal security is a core element for the well-being of individuals. Do you feel safe out walking, alone at night, for example? In Japan, 77% of people say that they feel safe walking alone at night, more than the OECD average of 74%.
The homicide rate (the number of murders per 100 000 inhabitants) is a more reliable measure of a country's safety level because, unlike other crimes, murders are usually always reported to the police. According to the latest OECD data, Japan's homicide rate is 0.2, one of the lowest rates in the OECD, where the average is 2.6.
Work-Life Balance – Japan expand
Finding a suitable balance between work and life is a challenge for all workers, especially working parents. The ability to successfully combine work, family commitments and personal life is important for the well-being of all members in a household. Governments can help to address the issue by encouraging supportive and flexible working practices, making it easier for parents to strike a better balance between work and home life.
An important aspect of work-life balance is the amount of time a person spends at work. Evidence suggests that long work hours may impair personal health, jeopardise safety and increase stress. In Japan, the percentage of employees that work very long hours in paid work is much higher than the OECD average of 10%.
The more people work, the less time they have to spend on other activities, such as time with others, leisure activities, eating or sleeping. The amount and quality of leisure time is important for people's overall well-being, and can bring additional physical and mental health benefits. In Japan, full-time workers devote 59% of their day on average, or 14.1 hours, to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socialising with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer and television use, etc.) than the OECD average of 15 hours.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Japan has fewer babies and lower female employment
Parents in Japan find it difficult to combine work and family commitments. Workplace practices, private costs (housing and juku), and social norms put pressure on young people. Hence, young Japanese postpone marriage, delay parenthood and often have fewer children than intended.
Japan is among the "lowest-low" fertility countries with a fertility rate of 1.42 in 2014. There has been a small rebound since 2005, but nevertheless the population has started to decline.
Japanese social policy has introduced several measures to reduce barriers to both parenting and employment. However, despite these efforts, policies such as childcare can be further developed. Increasing childcare provision and reducing private costs of out-of-school services are both crucial for parental employment. Japanese public spending on childcare and preschool services is the fourth lowest among OECD countries. Childcare constraints persist and enrolment rates for children under 3 (at 30.4%), although increasing, are still below the OECD average (33%).
Japanese workplace practices make it difficult for parents to combine work and family life. After the high cost of education, many educated Japanese women first want to establish regular employment before having children. Furthermore, once Japanese women leave the labour force to care for children, they often end up in non-regular employment, which is often low paid, part-time, and temporary. Parents who wish to get back to work need to have better opportunities to re-enter regular employment, otherwise, those who can afford to stay at home do so rather than return to a low-quality job. The result is fewer babies and lower female employment levels than the OECD average, at a time when Japan needs more working women to replace the aging working age population.