Marriage in Japan: attitudes, intentions, and perceived barriers

Sayaka Kawamura, Bowling Green State University


The average age at first marriage in Japan has been increasing over the decades, and is now one of the highest in the world at 29 years old for women and 30 years old for men in 2008 (Statistics Bureau, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, 2009). Later marriages accelerate the declining total fertility rate in Japan (Klitsch, 1994) due to the rarity of nonmarital childbearing (Rindfuss, Choe, Bumpass, and Tsuya, 2004). Using data from the Japan 2000 National Survey on Family and Economic Conditions (Tsuya, Bumpass, and Rindfuss, 2008, N = 4,482), this study explored the views of Japanese young adults on marriage and family. First, I investigated never married individuals’ attitudes toward marriage and childbearing. I found that Japanese singles generally did not strongly believe in the centrality of marriage in life nor did they perceive strong connections between marriage and childbearing. Nevertheless, single women tended to have less traditional attitudes toward various aspects of marriage and childbearing, relative to single men. Second, marriage intentions among both men and women were examined, and Japanese singles expressed relatively strong marriage intentions. Notably, women had stronger marriage intentions than men. Finally, I investigated gender differences in perceived barriers to marriage, particularly in the domains of (1) economic resources, (2) agreement on wives’ employment, (3) pressure to have a child soon after marriage, and (4) pressure to co-reside or to have close relationships with parents-in-law. Women were more likely than men to view economic resources, agreement on wives’ employment, and pressure to live with or have close relationships with in-laws as barriers to marriage. Japanese young adults did not strongly view pressure to have a child soon after marriage as a barrier to marriage. The results from this research contribute to new information on Japanese individuals’ views on marriage and family and may assist policymakers in encouraging young adults to marry earlier, which in turn should slow the decline of the total fertility rate.