Anime and manga fans are often accused of being NEETs. In Internet parlance: neck-beards, otaku, slacker, hobo. But what is a NEET? NEET is an acronym for an English (as in British, the acronym started in the UK) expression: Not in Education, Employment, or Training. The acronym started in July 1999 in the report “Bridging the Gap,” a report that focused on social exclusion (Batini, 2017). The typical media image of a NEET is an overweight young man living in a basement covered in Cheetos dust with a shrine to his favorite anime waifu and a long-running World of Warcraft subscription.
In the US, 57% of NEETs are women. In Italy, 1 out of 5 women are NEETs (Batini, 2017; Desilver, 2016).
So that means our media image of a NEET should be a female neck-beard with a shrine to her husbando who spends the day playing World of Warcraft.
Nope. In many countries stay-at-home mothers–and fathers–are considered NEETs. The problem with the idea of a NEET is how the definition varies across countries. All the definitions agree on the chief characteristic: inactivity. Some countries look at people aged 15-29, but Japan measures from 15-34. The periods of inactivity also varies. Asian countries track 4 groups of NEETs, for example (Batini, 2017):
- People who lack skills and education, but do not want a tough job and low wages.
- People who are hyper-protected by their parents.
- People who refuse to be employed by others because they want to build their own businesses.
- People who struggle with fitting into workplace demands–social etc.
You may be wondering where hikikomori fit in all of this. Well, hikikomori are considered a subcategory of NEET–they are people who isolate themselves from everyone for at least 6 months. Look at this article if you want to learn more about hikikomori.
Despite all this variable data, it is a global concern. The majority of NEETs don’t look for work because they have relatives that need care, health problems,. substance abuse problems, and the belief that any job search would be unsuccessful. I’ve ran into the last reason with many people. They feel as if they don’t have a chance after months and years of trying, and, sadly, some of them are right. They lack computer skills and other skills necessary to work. This ties into the common traits of NEETs: poor education and literacy.
Most NEETs lack higher level education and skill training, and NEETs are 80% more likely to come from families without college or vocational education. They are 2x more likely to have parents that don’t work, and these parents may fail to pass on the social skills necessary to work (Education Journal, 2016). NEETs suffer from a generational feedback loop. The issue compounds itself. NEETs lack the environment necessary to help them get into the labor market early which would allow them to get the experience necessary to find better work which could break the poverty aspect. The research papers I’ve read on this topic tout education as the key to breaking the loop and advocate increasing low-cost and free economic opportunities, but the papers also suggest despair, the feeling of being trapped, is a factor behind many NEETs. Providing education doesn’t necessarily address this feeling.
The Cost of Being a NEET
At first, it sounds neat (see what I did there?) to stay home and indulge in various fandoms (I would get soooo much writing and drawing done), but being a NEET comes at high personal and societal costs. Societal costs are the most obvious: NEETs don’t contribute to the economy and take from it through social programs like welfare, child-care vouchers, housing allowances, and other social assistance (Balan, 2016). Balan points out how this is a major cost for the European Union which has around 14 million NEETs. In 2015, the US had 10.2 million NEETs. I have to point out how in the US Blacks and Hispanics are most likely to be NEET: 22% of young blacks vs. 16% of whites, 20% of Hispanics are NEETs too (Desilver, 2016). Again, this is the connection to poverty working.
Families support many NEETs, particularly in Asia as anime likes to point out. This drains the family’s economic welfare and adds strain to family (Balan, 2016). Aside from economic costs, NEETs report higher rates of stress, panic, anxiety, frustration, and anger. Some NEETs fall into anarchic behavior and even terrorism (Balan, 2016). But on the whole, NEETs as a group show less interest in politics than people who work or are in training. Some of this may come from the feeling situational helplessness many NEETs feel or their struggle to meet their obligations; studies suggest pregnancy and children are the main reason behind female NEETs (Maguire, 2015).
I’ve seen some people say NEETs have only themselves to blame. They are lazy and irresponsible. But this view is too simple. It may be valid for some situations, but family culture and government policies matter too. Some people are NEETs because of social exclusion: rigid categories like race and gender roles. Some checkout from society because of discrimination. Others lack opportunity to work or enter training in their area, and they lack the means to move to an area with those opportunities (Mihai, 2015). Labeling NEETs as lazy or irresponsible allows the accuser to feel morally superior. It doesn’t help.
Of course, there is a subset of NEETs that willingly check out from society. They would rather live in their fantasy worlds than face the messy, ugly world around them. Somehow, this tiny silver became the flag-carrier for all NEETs. This caricature keeps people from taking the problem of NEETs seriously. Most NEETs would like to have more income and reduced anxiety, but the factors we’ve discussed work against them. It also hurts otaku culture. Few otakus are NEETs. I mean, just look at how expensive it is to be an otaku. Merchandise, manga, and anime aren’t cheap. In fact, its rather silly that NEETs and otaku are equated when we consider this. Of course, anime uses the NEET’s standard caricature, which has encouraged the association. In reality, otakus need significant income to indulge their fandom.
It’s easy for us to forget that NEETs are people with dreams and concerns like everyone else. Vilifying them doesn’t help the problem, nor does equating them with media caricatures.
Balan, M. (2016) Economic and Social Consequences Triggered by the NEET Youth. Knowledge Horizons – Economics. 8 (2) 80-87.
Batini, F. & others (2017) NEET: A Phenomenon Yet to be Explored. Interchange. 48. 19-37.
Desilver, D. (2016). Millions of young people in the U.S. and EU are neither working nor learning. Pew Fact-tank. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/01/28/us-eu-neet-population/
Maguire, S. (2015) NEET, unemployed, inactive or unknown – why does it matter?, Educational Research 57 (2) 121-132.
Mihai, M. & Burciu, A. (2015) NEET and Youth Exclusion. The Romanian Economic Journal. 18 (56). 135-147.
What to do about NEETs. (2016). Education Journal, (282), 13-17.