Parasite single (パラサイトシングル, parasaito shinguru) is a Japanese term for people who live with their parents until their late twenties or early thirties in order to enjoy a carefree and comfortable life. In English, the expression sponge, basement dweller, or scrub may sometimes be used.
The expression is mainly used in reference to Japanese society, but similar phenomena can also be found in other countries worldwide, such as Italy where 30-something singles still relying on their mother are well known joke among Europeans, or in Germany where it is known as Hotel Mama.
While some adult children help with the household chores or even pay a share of the rent, the vast majority do not. According to some statistics, about 85% of the children do not help with shared living expenses, but instead receive free housekeeping, laundry and meals from their parents. On top of that, about 50% of the children receive additional financial assistance from their parents (however, other sources say that 50% of the children do contribute to the living expenses).
This situation allows the children to live in considerable comfort, and while many save money, others spend all their income on luxury items, traveling, and other non-essential expenses. Many children wish to live with their parents until they marry.
The parents, for their part, often enjoy living with their children. Many parents want to protect their children and offer them the best possible start in life. Parents also enjoy the company and the social interaction and try to maintain the relationship. The additional expenses for the parents due to the additional household member are usually small, as the fixed costs like rent have to be paid anyway, and the additional cost for food and other consumables is usually negligible. Many parents also see this as an investment in their future, as the children will be more obliged to take care of their parents in their old age (in Japan it is traditionally the children that nurse their elderly and disabled parents).
The primary reason for the parasite single phenomenon is not economic, as this phenomenon has always existed in Japan. However, the housing costs in Japan are notoriously high, especially in or near large cities. A parasite single who chose to live independently would on average lose 2/3 of his or her disposable income. Furthermore, they would also have to do the cleaning and cooking for themselves. Finally, establishing a household has a large up front cost for durable items as for example a refrigerator, furniture, washing machine, and other items. The security deposit, traditional monetary gift for the landlord ("key money"), and the housing agent fee can also easily reach six months' rent; this is non-refundable and must be paid in advance. In summary, becoming independent involves large expenses, work, and a significant drop in living standard. Furthermore, as the vast majority of the Japanese population is concentrated in cities, all the employment and entertainment options desired are within reach from the parental home.
The economic advantages are enjoyed by all types of parasite singles, although there are different subgroups within the group of parasite singles. Career oriented young salarymen and office ladies could afford to live on their own, but prefer the additional financial benefits, and perhaps the company and security of living at their parents' homes. Other adult children have difficulty finding steady employment in the current difficult economic situation. They often can find only part time and low paid jobs, turning into underemployed so-called freeters who cannot afford to live independently even if they would like to. Finally, some adult children do not want to face the competition of the outside world at all and do not seek work at all, and in the worst case do not even want to leave the parents' house. These children are referred to as hikikomori (people who withdraw from society, literally to "withdraw into seclusion").
One possible side effect of the parasite single phenomenon is the increase of the average age of the first marriage (though this is also attributable to other factors like career prospects and education). While in 1970 women married on average at age 24 and men at age 27, this has increased to 27.4 years for women and 29 years for men in 2002. This has also resulted in women having children later in life, and fewer children overall due to the decline in fertility after age 30. Subsequently, while in 1983 there were on average 1.8 children born to every woman over her lifetime, this decreased to 1.32 children per woman in 2002.
Many parasite singles work, often having successful careers and considerable income, yet relatively few contribute to the living expenses of the parents' household. Subsequently, they have a large amount of disposable income, and few needs for durable goods. It is said that the spending habits of parasite singles is good for the economy, but others point out that they would also have to spend the money if they were living alone, except less for luxury items and more for essential expenses. In effect, the sales of durable goods (refrigerators, furniture, washing machines) in Japan is steadily declining, whereas the sales of luxury goods, especially brand name items like Gucci, Prada, Hermès, Dior, Givenchy and especially Louis Vuitton (which is exceedingly popular in Japan) is booming. Overall, the effect for the economy of Japan is only a slightly different demand pattern, except for the money leaving Japan due to overseas holidays and import products.
Another effect is a possible reduction in the price of real estate and rental cost due to the increasing number of people per household.
Parasite singles are often blamed for a large number of problems in Japan, ranging from a decline in the birth rate over the economic recession to the increase in crime. Professor Yamada claims that the "spoiled" women that grew up during the bubble economy are particularly to blame. However, many people also feel that the young adults have no option but to become parasite singles in the current difficult economic situation, having to choose between career and family. However, this discussion has disappeared as the economic situation has improved and it has been demonstrated that the so-called "lost decade" had little, if any, effect on this phenomenon.