Journal Article Are the Japanese Unique? Evidence from Household Saving and Bequest Behavior

Charles Yuji, Horioka

In this paper, we attempt to shed light on whether Japanese households are rational or if their behavior is influenced by culture and social norms by examining their saving and bequest behavior. To summarize our main findings, we find that Japan’s household saving rate showed great volatility, was often low and even negative, and was high only during the 25-year period from around 1960 until the mid-1980s (if we exclude the war years) and that we can explain the high level of, and trends over time in, Japan’s household saving rate via various socioeconomic and policy variables. This seems to suggest that the Japanese are not a saving-loving people and that their saving behavior is not governed by culture and social norms. Moreover, the bequest behavior of the Japanese suggests that they are less altruistic toward their children and less reliant on their children than otherpeoples, suggesting that the alleged social norm of strong family ties in Japan is largely a myth, and the Japanese do not appear to be appreciably more concerned about the continuation of the family line or the family business than other peoples, suggesting that the influence of the “ie” system is apparently not so pervasive either. However, we argue that these findings do not necessarily mean that culture and social norms do not matter.

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