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Japanese people just aren’t getting married anymore. According to a recent report in The Economist, the average age of first marriage in Japan has risen by 4.2 and 5.2 years (respectively) for men and women since 1970. The number of unmarried people by the age of 50 rose from five per cent in 1970 to 16 per cent in 2010. This is a very serious problem in Japan because it’s coupled with a population that simply doesn’t have children out of wedlock – only two per cent, as opposed to the 48 per cent in Great Britain, 41 per cent in the United States and a modest 25 per cent in Canada.
The most fascinating part of all of this is that Japanese people generally still want to get married — 86 per cent of men and 89 per cent of women, according to a survey published in 2010 by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research. The hindrance, it seems, is a matter of economics; a deterrent not unique to Japan.
Young men are increasingly stuck in part-time jobs or jobs without any real security and the women are finding it hard to combine the traditional views of marriage with newly discovered career and financial freedom. The days of the stay-at-home mom are almost gone. The younger generation of men and women aren’t just eating avocado toast, they’re spending their free time working and bolstering resumés instead of socializing. As a result, relationships seem more of a burden than a benefit.
The solution to what the Japanese government calls “celibacy syndrome” has so far been aimed at getting younger people to meet more frequently, but that seems like treatment for the symptom rather than the issue. The only true fix for this marriage problem would require a complete change of the economic landscape – to build a secure environment in contrast with the current gig economy that profits off the anxiety and insecurity of the workers. And in doing so, create some level of comfort in a world where work doesn’t equal worth, and young people could pursue things that make them happy, like love and family, rather than agonizing over things that they need to do for basic survival.
And all the world would be a rainbow.
But it’s easy to suggest impossible remedies. What can actually be done in practical terms is a rebranding of marriage for the new world. The traditional stay-at-home mom role doesn’t fit the ambitions of women of today. And the emotional toll of relationships, the cost of marriage and children are unnecessary hardships to people who are working numerous part-time jobs.
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A real solution would be to show how intimacy, relationships and ultimately marriage can relieve some of the pressures facing Millennials. Promote the idea that married people are less stressed than singles; having two incomes helps to deal with financial disasters much better than being on on your own. And with women finding greater independence, relationships need to be shaped as two equals working together for the benefit of themselves – both as separate entities and a collective. Less breadwinner and housewife, and more power couples.
Simply put, rather than trying to force a new crop of people with different worries into an old system, marriage needs to adapt to the people. Otherwise, it could soon become an archaic practice altogether.