Understanding the Decline in Japan’s Saving Rate in the New Millennium

Tokuo Iwaisako, Keiko Okada
PRI Discussion Paper Series (No.10A-06)

The decline in Japan’s household saving rate accelerated sharply after 1998, but then decelerated again from 2003. Such nonlinear movement in the saving rate cannot be explained by the monotonic trend of population aging alone. According to the life cycle model of consumption and saving, population aging will increase short-run fluctuations in the saving rate, because the consumption of older households is less sensitive to income shocks. Analyzing income and spending data for different age groups, we argue that this is exactly what happened during the recession following the banking panic of 1997/98. Two important changes in income distribution are associated with this mechanism. First, the negative labor income shock, which in the initial stages of the lost decade was mostly borne by the younger generation, spread to older working households in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Second, there was a significant income shift from labor to shareholders associated with the corporate restructuring being undertaken during this time. This resulted in a decline in the wage share, so that the increase in corporate saving offset the decline in household saving.