Editor's Note: Below is an interesting excerpt from a recent institutional research note written by our Demography analyst Neil Howe. To access his research email sales@hedgeye.com.

Why Are There So Many Virgins In Japan? - ztok

In Japan, around 44% of single women and 42% of single men ages 18 to 34 say they are virgins. What's holding them back? A confluence of factors, including: a culture of overwork that leaves little time for romance; a patriarchy that disfavors strong, independent women; and a multibillion-dollar sex industry that devalues meaningful companionship.

When it comes to the consequences of demographic aging, Japan (they say) is the canary in the coal mine--because Japan is getting there well before the rest of the high-income world. Could this also be true for the drivers of demographic aging?

In America, too, sexual activity is declining among younger age brackets--as evidenced (among teens) by the Youth Risk Behavior Survey and (among young and midlife adults) by the General Social Survey and the CDC's own sexual behavior and orientation surveys.

Explanations for this trend in America are numerous. They include:

  • later marriage
  • declining male testosterone levels (see: "You're Not the Man Your Father Was")
  • rising risk aversion among Millennials (the biggest declines are at the youngest ages)
  • always-on stress
  • less sleep
  • more anxiety surrounding cross-gender relationships in the #MeToo era
  • the eclipsing of in-person interaction by online interaction
  • and of course the ubiquitous availability of pornography

On some of these fronts, Japan may be ahead of us here as well.

Japanese young adults have always been risk averse--to the extent that very few children are born to unmarried parents. Similarly, the rise of ambivalent young U.S. men who doubt their ability to measure up to the adult standard of career, marriage, and manhood (see Nicholas Eberstadt, "Men Without Work") may have been anticipated in Japan by the earlier rise of anti-alpha "herbivores" and the "hikikomori" (young males who choose to live in near total isolation). Back during the sexual revolution, society looked at young Boomers and worried about how we could restrain the libido. Society looks at today's young Millennials and worries about how we can rekindle it.

In both countries, many Millennials regard sex as an activity that pulls them into adult economic, social, and gender-role expectations. As such, it is highly problematic. It launches them through an onerous rite of passage to an adulthood that they're not sure they want (more often the attitude in Japan) or that they may want but just don't see, practically, how to get there (more often the attitude in America).

Either way, the implications of declining sexual activity point not just to fewer children and sinking fertility rates, but more broadly to the unraveling of mores and rituals which used to connect the ambitions of youth to demographic sustainability and national optimism. A failure scenario won't see successive rising generations revolt or rebel. It will simply see them detach--and look on with curiosity as their society literally vanishes decade by decade.

Why Are There So Many Virgins In Japan? - market brief