Last year, for the first time in recorded history, Japan’s birth rate was under one million.
Japan is in the midst of a massive demographic shift– with a rapidly aging population and a birth rate on a steep decline, people are scrambling to figure out why so few people are starting families. Why is it that marriage and family life has become so unappealing to young people in the last decade? Older generations are fast to point fingers at young people: Are young Japanese people less romantic than previous generations?
Starting a family seems like a daunting task right now, and aside from putting off having children– More and more young Japanese people are making the choice to stay single, and putting off or choosing to completely abstain from marriage.
Of course the cause isn’t young people’s aversion to romance. There are numerous reasons why, and all point to a society that is changing faster than the establishment can keep up with.
One of the biggest reasons cited for choosing to put off marriage is purely economic. Young people are no longer feeling financially secure enough to bankroll an expensive wedding party, let alone starting a family.
Japan’s culture of overwork and the growing scarcity of regular employment are massive problems for young people. Regular employment has become harder to find in recent years; and though unemployment is under 3 percent in Japan, many young people are struggling to land the ideal permanent company jobs with the salary and benefits available to support a family.
Who has the time?
If you are lucky enough to find regular employment, the hours are long and grueling. Many young people find they barely have time to eat and sleep, let alone socialize and meet new potential partners. In fact, a survey of people aged 18 to 34 in Japan showed that almost 70 percent of unmarried men and 60 percent of unmarried women are not in a relationship– and shockingly, around 30% of single men in their 20s-30s have never dated at all.
In the past, arranged marriages or marriages through matchmaking agencies were popular, though their popularity has sharply decreased in recent years. Young people want to meet their partner organically, though that can be difficult with many’s lack of work-life balance.
The issues of marriage are always going to be linked with child-rearing. Couples in Japan typically start their families soon after marriage, and very few children are born out of wedlock.
Japan has deeply rooted cultural expectations regarding marriage. More often than not, women have been expected to do the majority of child-rearing and housework, with men being the sole breadwinners for the families. With changing economic conditions, and more and more women wishing to pursue full-time careers, it can be incredibly difficult to have a work-family balance in Japan.
Returning to work after pregnancy is notoriously difficult, and hoping to find childcare can be next to impossible. Waiting lists for kindergartens and daycares can be years long at a time, and tuition fees extraordinarily expensive. Many prefectures and local governments are working to make childcare more widely available for families, but progress is slow-going.
Because of the economic difficulty of raising children, many young people are choosing to put off marriage until they are financially stable enough to immediately support a family, or are in a secure enough employment situation to return to work after parental-leave. This pushes marriage back until people’s late thirties– or even later at times!
What can be done?
Even though so few people are actively dating, marriage isn’t out of the question! In fact, 86% of men and 89% of women would like to be married “eventually”. How does Japan turn “eventually” into a reality?
The government may have some solutions: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet has been working for solutions to address the declining birth rate. Some proposed solutions include local government-sponsored dating events or singles mixers, and increased access to childcare.
There is a certain amount of responsibility that needs to be given to companies, as they have the power to make an immediate change in peoples day to day lives. Solutions on the shoulders of companies include sharply cutting the amount of overtime-work that is allowed and cracking down on so-called “black companies” (companies that force their employees to do large amounts of unpaid overtime work). Cutting hours overall will result in a much easier work-life balance for young people, and less stress leads to happier lives and relationships. Rebuilding the trust and symbiosis between companies and employees will give young people a better sense of security, and a better work-life balance required to date and begin families.
New industries are also popping up to encourage young people to socialize and meet each other outside of work. From blind-date cafes to organized mixers and social events, there are more and more opportunities for singles to meet someone special– even with their hectic work schedules.
Getting married is not so hard in Japan, make sure you stay prepared for yours. Read more: