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Japan’s frugal millennials a bad omen for its economy


Accustomed to stagnant wages, jobs without benefits and a debt-burdened government, they came of age during the global financial crisis and the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster – events that set them apart from other generations, especially in their spending patterns.

That carries grave portents for Japan’s economic policymakers, hampering their ability to spur consumption and lift the world’s third-largest economy from decades of tepid growth and deflation.

The millennials will form a large part of Japan’s consumer society for decades to come, and their first instinct is to save, not spend. And if they spend, they hunt for bargains. They don’t need cars and shun brand-name clothing, once coveted by their parents during the booming 1980s.

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Young people are reluctant to spend because of stagnant wages and a lack of stable jobs. Nearly 30 percent of contract workers aged 25-34 said last year that they settled on temporary jobs because they couldn’t find permanent employment, according to a government survey.

Even for young people with stable jobs, raising pay might not be enough to stimulate consumption. “If we got paid more, we’d probably save for the future rather than spend,” said Miki Sarumaru, a 26-year-old consultant.

Households with heads who are aged 25 or below spent on average 150,547 yen per month in 2014, about 30 percent less than five years earlier.

By the way “wearing expensive brand-name clothing like Prada head-to-toe is uncool,” said Sarumaru, the 26-year-old consultant. Mixing cheap items with slightly pricier ones requires more fashion skills and is much cooler, she said.

Over 60 percent of high school students, university students and 20-somethings said they want to be viewed as being frugal rather than generous with money, according to a survey by Dentsu Innovation Institute, a marketing and consumer research company.