Health Inequality in Japan: COVID-19 and Fairness

By enhancing fairness and justice in socio-economic policies, Japan can significantly improve the overall health of its citizens and pave the way for a more equitable society.

Masaya Kobayashi
Masaya Kobayashi
A Japanese healthcare professional examines a test tube sample — Photo by
  • Financial security buffers mental health impacts.
  • Perceptions of justice and socio-political fairness boost psychological health.
  • Quick government actions and proactive policies mitigate mental strain and promote social equity.
  • Low income correlates with higher psychological stress.
  • Community support enhances mental health outcomes.

Exploring Health Inequality

The COVID-19 pandemic has sharply intensified existing health inequalities, particularly in psychological well-being. This exploration focuses on Japan, a nation often viewed as having a uniform level of health across its population.

The crisis, however, has highlighted significant disparities that intersect with socio-economic, cultural, and political dimensions. This article examines how these factors collectively influence the mental health landscape in Japan.

By analyzing the variances in psychological health outcomes across different socio-economic groups during the pandemic, we aim to uncover the deeper effects of public policies and societal structures on mental well-being.

The goal is to provide a comprehensive understanding of health inequality in Japan, fostering a discussion on effective interventions to reduce these disparities and promote a more equitable health environment.

Health Disparities Amidst COVID-19

As COVID-19 progressed, Japan’s varied responses to the crisis profoundly affected the psychological well-being of its citizens. The pandemic not only tested the country’s healthcare systems but also exposed the underlying socio-economic disparities that contribute to unequal health outcomes. Economic stability proved crucial; individuals and communities with higher economic resources experienced less psychological strain, highlighting the protective role of financial security against mental health declines during public health emergencies.

The link between economic conditions and psychological health is supported by extensive research during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to our research in 2020 and 2021, socio-cultural factors, including satisfaction with social stratification and general trust among people, significantly influenced how different groups responded to the crisis. Moral values of equality and trust within communities and society were seen to buffer against the psychological impact of the pandemic, whereas areas with less community cohesion, equity, or trust reported higher levels of stress and anxiety.

Political actions, including policy decisions concerning public health implementation against COVID-19, were pivotal in shaping the trajectory of health outcomes. The recognition of fairness and justice in the government’s policies is critical, particularly concerning regulations and support systems that directly affect the populace. Government measures that swiftly addressed economic and social relief for affected populations may have helped mitigate some of the adverse effects on psychological health.

Throughout the successive waves of the pandemic, these factors interacted in complex ways, with each wave revealing and often exacerbating existing inequalities.

Economic Factors and Psychological Well-Being

The link between economic conditions and psychological health is clear and supported by extensive research, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our research demonstrated how subjective and objective income/asset levels, as well as overall economic or employment stability, strongly correlated with mental health outcomes in the Japanese population. The reasons for this correlation may be as follows:

Individuals with higher economic status generally show greater psychological resilience, which can be generally attributed to better access to quality healthcare, more opportunities to engage in mental health-promoting activities such as leisure and recreation, and less financial stress—a known risk factor for mental health disorders. Economic stability provides the means to afford both necessities and luxuries that mitigate stress, thereby fostering an environment conducive to mental well-being.

Socio-political factors critically influence psychological health.

Conversely, lower income levels are associated with numerous psychological challenges. Financial insecurity often leads to chronic stress, anxiety, and depression. The struggle to meet basic needs or plan for the future creates a continuous state of worry and uncertainty, severely impacting mental health. Additionally, individuals with lower incomes typically have less access to mental health services, which exacerbates the problem by delaying the diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues.

During the pandemic, these economic disparities became more pronounced as many individuals faced job insecurities, reduced working hours, or halted business operations. The mental health impacts were immediate and severe for those without sufficient economic buffers. In contrast, those who maintained their economic status or had significant savings were better equipped to manage the psychological impacts of the pandemic.

Furthermore, our analysis also revealed the critical role of government interventions in mitigating the adverse effects of economic instability on psychological health. Policies for fairness and justice in citizens’ perceptions encouraged them to overcome their difficulties. Consequently, various policies providing financial support—such as direct payments, unemployment benefits, or subsidized medical care—are essential in maintaining mental stability among economically vulnerable populations during the pandemic.

Socio-Political Dimensions of Health

Given these findings, socio-political factors critically influence psychological health, particularly through the lenses of fairness and justice and their role in health inequality. Perceptions of fairness and justice within the socio-political framework significantly shape individual well-being. Moreover, policies aimed at reducing social disparities and enhancing fairness not only impact well-being but also contribute to a more equitable societal structure.

Improving psychological health across the nation requires a commitment to fairness and justice.

According to our study, individuals who perceive their social and political systems as embodying fairness and justice generally report better psychological health. This sense of justice can buffer against the stress associated with inequality and discrimination. Moreover, actively promoting policies that enhance social equity is crucial in mitigating the effects of economic and social disparities that often lead to poor health outcomes.

Conversely, perceived injustices or chronic exposure to unfair treatment can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and diminished well-being. This is particularly evident in populations facing systemic inequities, where the lack of socio-political fairness directly correlates with higher levels of psychological distress.

Therefore, government interventions aimed at addressing these disparities are pivotal in shaping public health outcomes. Initiatives that actively enhance socio-political fairness—not only in healthcare but across all sectors—can significantly improve the collective mental health of a population. By implementing policies that ensure equitable access to resources, provide robust support for underprivileged groups, and protect civil rights, governments can foster a healthier, more just society.

In sum, the relationship between socio-political factors and health inequality underscores the profound effect that justice and fairness have on psychological well-being. It is essential for the overall health of society to ensure that fairness permeates every aspect of the socio-political landscape.

Multi-Dimensional Analysis of Psychological Health

A detailed analysis of the factors affecting psychological health reveals the significant impact of socio-economic status as well as the natural and educational environments on mental well-being. Employing statistical data, the exploration demonstrates how these multi-dimensional factors interact to shape the landscape of health inequality.

Socio-economic status emerges as a prominent factor; individuals from higher socio-economic backgrounds generally experience fewer mental health issues, which can be attributed to better access to healthcare resources, healthier lifestyle options, and less exposure to stressors such as financial instability. Additionally, lifestyle choices—including diet, exercise, and leisure activities—may play a crucial role. Engaging in healthy behaviors contributes to better mental health and acts as a buffer against the negative effects of stress and anxiety.

Social stratification—or social class—and social trust significantly influence psychological well-being. Communities characterized by high levels of social equality, solidarity, and support typically perform better in mental health assessments. These communities provide a sense of security and stability that can mitigate the impact of personal and economic crises, highlighting the critical role of social bonds and collective community health.

Integrating these factors into public health strategies is essential. Policies that address economic disparities, promote healthy lifestyles, and encourage social equity are necessary to reduce health inequality and enhance collective psychological well-being. Adopting a holistic approach to these issues is not merely beneficial; it is crucial in cultivating a healthier society where mental well-being is accessible to all.

Conclusion: Toward a Fairer Society

The findings from this analysis strongly advocate for integrated socio-political strategies to mitigate psychological health disparities in Japan. By enhancing fairness and justice in socio-economic policies, Japan can significantly improve the overall health of its citizens and pave the way for a more equitable society. The undeniable correlation between socio-political fairness and psychological well-being highlights the necessity of addressing this through comprehensive policy measures.

Strategies that encompass economic, social, and health sectors must be synchronized to effectively combat the multi-dimensional nature of health inequality. Policies that ensure socio-economic justice—such as equitable access to healthcare, economic support for the underprivileged, and fair employment practices—will collectively contribute to a healthier, more flourishing society.

Ultimately, improving psychological health across the nation requires a commitment to fairness and justice that transcends traditional policy boundaries. By adopting such an approach, Japan can not only enhance the well-being of its current population but also lay a foundation for future generations to thrive in a society that values and upholds the principles of equity and justice.

Politics and Rights Review has adapted the academic article titled ‘Multi-Dimensional Dynamics of Psychological Health Disparities under COVID-19 in Japan: Fairness/Justice in Socio-Economic and Ethico-Political Factors,’ authored by Masaya Kobayashi, Hikari Ishido, Jiro Mizushima, and Hirotaka Ishikawa. This article was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2022 (Volume 19, Issue 24) and is licensed under CC BY 4.0. The adaptation was revised by the lead author and approved by the co-authors.

How to cite this article

Kobayashi, M. (2024, April 21). Health Inequality in Japan: COVID-19 and Fairness. Politics and Rights Review.
DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.11004555
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Dean of the Graduate School of Social Sciences and professor of Political Philosophy, Public Philosophy, and Comparative Politics at Chiba University, Japan. He serves as Director of the Japanese Positive Health Psychology Society and head of the Research Center on Public Affairs. Previously a research fellow at the University of Tokyo and a visiting scholar and Bye-Fellow at Cambridge University, his expertise spans political philosophy, positive psychology, public policy, and comparative thought.