Four Reasons Why Japan’s Marriage Rate is Decreasing

Four Reasons Why Japan’s Marriage Rate is Decreasing

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Two women enjoying wine alone
Picture: kou / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
Why are fewer people in Japan getting married? A recent survey captures the top reasons why both men and women are shunning matrimony.

Marriage has been undergoing changes all around the world in recent years, and Japan is no exception. Marriage equality is on the rise, and activists have been pushing for more joint custody after divorces, rather than the current one-parent-take-all system.

However, running alongside those changes is another one: the fact that the overall marriage rate has been on the decline. Recently more Japanese people are choosing to remain single, with the majority of those aged 18-34 not in any relationship.

To find some answers, the Japanese website NicoNico News conducted a survey for unmarried people. They broke down the responses into four main categories, with the first one being:

#1. Married Women and Working Mothers Have Too Much Responsibility

Woman tired of housework
Picture: プラナ / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Even though cultural attitudes have been changing, Japanese wives are still expected to take care of the house, whether or not they have full-time jobs on top of it. The belief is so prevalent that many husbands simply do not go home after work if their wives ask them to help out.

One 34-year-old woman said this:


When you get married, you have to take care of your husband more. Living alone, you can get by on udon or pasta, but many women feel like they have to cook real meals for their husbands. Working mothers have their jobs, housework, kids, and husbands to worry about. Then when they’re done raising the kids, they have to care for their parents. I don’t have the courage to give up my career and follow that path.

While married couples sharing the responsibility of housework and child-rearing is becoming more prevalent in Japan, it still has a ways to go before it’s on par with other countries. And until then, it will continue to be a reason why many women don’t want to get married.


#2. Economic Instability

Man worrying over money
Picture: kou / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Getting married can be expensive. Paying for the engagement ring, the ceremony, the honeymoon, and potentially a new house is daunting. Without a well-paying job, it’s downright impossible for some.

A 33-year-old man said this on the topic:


You need money to get married. With my current salary, a wedding ceremony is just a dream within a dream. If the woman I’m with wants a fancy wedding, I wouldn’t be able to make it happen, so I wouldn’t get married.

Even though it’s possible to get married without spending a ton of money, that itself presents another host of issues. Personally, my wife and I married at our local town hall with a reception afterward whose cost was barely in the triple dollar digits, but we were lucky that our friends and families were understanding. Other families expect a big ceremony, the same way they expect their children to follow certain career paths.

Yet again, this marriage obstacle seems to come down to traditional, and potentially outdated, cultural mindsets.

#3. Don’t Want Children

Woman caring for baby while man plays games
Picture: プラナ / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

For many people, whether in Japan or elsewhere, getting married equals having children. You’ve sniffed out your partner, determined they are acceptable to help raise a child, and then create/adopt one together.

On the other side of the coin, that means for those who don’t want children, marriage is not something to look forward to, as one 29-year-old woman explained:


Even though I’m a woman, I don’t like kids. It may be surprising, but I really don’t. I’m scared to give birth, and kids are expensive. In Japan, mothers are expected to live for their children, but I don’t like that. Sure, kids are important, but I want to enjoy my life. Since no one seems to share that opinion with me, I don’t know if I’ll ever marry.

Children are extra weights added to the previous two reasons: more responsibility for mothers, and another financial burden. While they certainly bring joy to the lives of many parents, there are plenty of people for whom children would be a net negative.

Where children were once needed to ensure someone to take care of you in old age, that’s no longer a necessity. Hired caregivers and retirement homes can provide those services for less cost than raising a child. Plus they don’t come with the added chance of your child not wanting to deal with you, or you not wanting to feel like a burden to them.

#4. Just Don’t Have a “Reason” to Get Married

Man doing laundry
Fast&Slow / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

This is a big one. Even if you’re in a relationship, what pushes you to make the commitment to marriage?

As one 28-year-old man describes it, the push to make that leap has disappeared over time:


I have no reason to get married. Or any need. It’s not something I aspire to. There are so many other fun things to do, I don’t want to be bound to someone. A big reason men used to get married was to have someone do the housework and cooking, but that’s pretty rude to women. I can do housework and cooking myself. I don’t need to marry someone to have them do it for me.

That’s a pretty blunt way of putting it, but he does have a point. My wife and I lived together for three years before we got married, and even though we loved each other, the only reason we pulled the trigger was that she needed a visa to come to Japan with me. Even now, nine years later, we sometimes wonder when/if we would’ve gotten married if we hadn’t moved. What would’ve been the impetus to make us do it?

For some, that impetus is declaring their love officially, fulfilling their family’s expectations, or even pragmatic needs like health insurance. Without other marriage incentives out there, is it really a surprise to see it on a decline?

Problem or Positive?

After reading through the four reasons, Japan’s change in attitude toward marriage isn’t that different from the rest of the world. As we’ve seen before, it’s not due to anime-obsessed otaku; if anything the lower marriage rate is a return to what was considered normal during Japan’s Edo era.

When looking at marriage rates across 44 countries, Japan is somewhere in the middle. Its recent rate is lower than in 1970 or 1995, but the same goes for most other countries on the list too. Cultural ideas of what marriage means are changing worldwide. Japan is part of that ongoing evolution.

Marriage is becoming merely another option that people have in their lives, not something mandatory that needs to happen. Perhaps looking at happiness/satisfaction rates across demographics would be a better measure of how well a society is doing and what could be changed to improve it.

Although if Japan wants to take a quick step in increasing marriages, simplifying the number of words for wife/husband could be a good first move.

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Scott Wilson

Scott lives in the countryside of Gifu Prefecture, where he works as a translator, writer, and editor. His first book Metl: The ANGEL weapon was published this year. In his free time he can be found re-reading One Piece for the hundredth time, playing Magic: The Gathering, and dreaming about Shakey's Pizza.

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