Monday, August 17, 2009

O-bon; and a quick note on school costs

We've had our O-bon holidays and spent most of it doing nothing much. Went up the Rokko mountain in Kobe once for sightseeing and dinner (I'll post a few pictures later), and I've spent some time developing and scanning negatives and processing images. Since most places were open as usual on Wednesday and Thursday I also took the opportunity to do a bunch of bank errands and such. I can't really do that normally, what with me being at work on weekdays and no bank close to the university.


Silhouette. I've tried out Delta3200; this shot was exposed at 6400. As you can see there's lots and lots of grain here, but if anything I think it enhances the image.

Anyway, a mildly interesting, but rather short English-language overview of the costs of schooling in Japan in Mainichi yesterday. Takeaway message: school-related costs (not food or clothing or anything, but school) for one child from preschool up to university costs their parents an average of about 8.6 million yen ($90k USD or 660k SKR) for an all-public education, up to 22.5 million ($250k USD or 1.7 million SKR) for all-private schools. Schooling takes about 25% of annual income for high-income families, and over half for people with normal incomes (as a post-doc level researcher I would fall squarely in the normal-income bracket).

Note that the choice between public and private isn't completely free; especially at university level public schools tend to be hard to get into. Also note that these are averages. The article notes that studying science and mathematics is more expensive for students than arts and literature.

It is also worth noting that while individual people decide on a child for all kinds of idiosyncratic-seeming reasons, people are quite rational in aggregate. When the cost of child rearing increases and the benefit of children - as family farm workers, pension insurance and so on - decreases, people respond by having fewer children. The cost of child rearing has increased substantially in Japan; my resident expert informs me that school costs were nothing like this expensive a generation or two ago. The cost of children has increased elsewhere of course, simply because a university exam has gone from a fairly rare luxury almost to a prerequisite for a normal middle-class life. That means both the added cost of university, and another 3-5 years of adolescence (or 20 years and counting in my case).

At the same time, the economic benefits of children have decreased. Few people today have a family business where children are welcome helping hands (to say nothing of the legality of child work). They're still a semi-official part of the pension system in Japan, but that system is in long-term danger of collapse. Fewer pensioners actually have surviving children to take care of them any more. Many middle-aged children find they can't both spend part- or full time taking care of an ailing parent, bring up a child of their own and hold down a job at the same time. This is becoming a frequent theme in TV dramas as well as in real-life tragedies of murder-suicides committed by desperate people unable to cope with the burden.

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