In all stages of our lives, from birth to death, we are exposed to a variety of risks, and we can say that the risks that face us in today’s society are growing in severity due to the inadequacy of social systems and changes in the social environment. For example, in recent years, children in the womb are exposed to a greater risk before birth because of the shortage of obstetricians and gynecologists, which is attributable to the inadequacy of the ongoing medical system. School-age children risk falling behind in school and dropping out because of poverty or other causes. They also risk being exposed to greater stress at school and perhaps becoming unable to attend. Failure in educational policy can lead to growing inequality in access to educational opportunities and a widening of the social gap, handicapping some people already?right from the start. After completing school, we are then faced with employment risks, such as the risk of losing a job or having no choice but to work as a temporary worker. Such risks have become increasingly threatening to the workforce, backed by an increasing dependency on temporary workers, a process that began in the 1990s. This employment situation has also increased risks regarding marriage. With the expansion of irregular employment, men have a greater likelihood of being unable to earn sufficient income to support children, and thus, remain unmarried. An increase in unmarried men means an increase in unmarried women. Furthermore, if companies cannot provide a work environment that allows female workers to keep a healthy work-life balance, then female workers with children have greater difficulties in continuing work, and thus might experience a higher risk of failing to develop their careers. Even if they hope to leave corporate life, get married, and have children, they still risk the chance of divorce, and considering that household finances are sometimes the cause of divorce, marriage itself can be a risky choice. Especially, if there is a huge gap in treatment between regular and temporary workers, the choice to leave a company and get married entails a higher risk. Moreover, married women with children can face the risk of being unable to find a good daycare center due to lack or poor quality of childcare services. Additionally, when we grow old, we experience a higher risk of falling ill and requiring nursing care. If medical services require higher cost, or if high-quality medical or nursing services are not sufficiently available, then an enjoyable old age will be at risk. In addition, there is the risk of failures concerning pension plans, which would render us unable to obtain income to sustain our livelihood after retirement. In fact, ongoing social security system problems have increased the risk of failure to provide sufficient security coverage.
In addition, there are risks particular to each social system. For example, transportation systems that center on automobiles have a higher risk of traffic accidents. Additionally, considering that disaster reduction processes work closely with social systems, such as infrastructure and community mechanisms, it is necessary to address post-disaster risk management and mental care issues as well, in analyzing disaster risks.
There is a vast accumulation of research findings concerning the various risks mentioned above both in Japan and abroad. However, few comprehensive attempts have been made to explore how inadequate or problematic social systems that cause risks are associated with other risks that befall us at various stages of our lives. For example, while the increase in irregular employment is at the core of the rise in the unmarried population and the decline in birthrates, it can also be remotely responsible for the widening of the income gap, the increase of inequality concerning access to educational opportunities, the intensification of a sense of social unfairness and the consequent expansion of the motivation gap, and the development of social unrest due to increases in crime. This indicates that we cannot identify the essential structure of our risk society simply by separating certain risks from other risks and examining them individually. At the Life Risk Research Center, we aim to shed light on the essential structure of the risk society and present policy measures necessary to create a safe and mentally healthy society.
In spite of technical development, today’s society is still seriously threatened by risks in everyday life. In our attempt to identify the essential nature of a risk society by conducting interdisciplinary analysis, we hope to contribute to the creation of a safe and mentally healthy society.
Side effects of advanced IT systems
The economic crisis that erupted in the autumn of 2008 provided us with opportunities to ponder the effects of human thought on an IT society. In the wake of the crisis, many people wondered how such a drastic decrease in demand could occur so quickly worldwide. Indeed, many business people were astounded at the speed at which demand decreased. It is often said that one of the reasons behind such a rapid decrease can be the prevalence of a “computerized inventory control system.”
The computerized system automatically reduces production when the inventory exceeds a certain level, which naturally leads to a decrease in the materials to be procured. As most companies now employ computerized inventory control systems, the impacts of the decreased demands are instantly felt even by the smallest suppliers, and all companies involved are affected at the same time.
Then, how can such a computerized inventory control system work alongside our mentality in terms of the economy? Perhaps people will be driven into a panic in the face of a drastic decrease in demand, thus making an excessively downward adjustment to their business forecasts, which can eventually accelerate the worsening of economic conditions. Thus, the prevalence of IT systems entails the risk of adding momentum to the process of economic collapse through such unexpected human reactions. (T.Y.)