Singles’ life: choice or necessity?

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Singles’ life: choice or necessity?

Post by Admin on Tue Aug 10, 2010 2:03 pm

In starting this column
This column has been launched with a view to succinctly providing recent information concerning families and family law in Japan. However, due to linguistic barriers, it has been difficult for Japanese scholars to make such information available to the rest of the world. In particular, numerous challenges are posed in imparting information that is ‘current’. This column is therefore intended to serve as an informal forum for offering and exchanging up-to-date news and perspectives on the situation surrounding the family in Japan. The contact details of the contributor(s) are given at the end. Therefore, readers who wish to learn more about a particular item are asked to contact such contributor(s) directly by email. Bar the veteran organizer, the column’s contributors largely belong to a younger generation of academic researchers on family law. Consequently, the organizer hopes that this column will contribute to the establishment of a global network in which family issues may be freely discussed among researchers.

Singles’ life: choice or necessity?
To begin the discussion, take the example of the increased complexity of the situation of single people in Japan in the last few decades, some of which seem to defy common perceptions. As is well known, statistics show that from the 1980s there has been a steady decline in the rate of marriage among young persons. Public opinion polls also suggest a growing sense that marriage is no longer necessary (30.9% in 1992 and 48.0% in 2009: http://www8.cao.go.jp/survey/h21/h21-danjo/images/z14.gif), though one should be wary of possible differences between opinion and reality. Interestingly, even though the proportion of the population who have never married by age 50 was predominantly comprised of women until the 1980s, more recently, the corresponding proportion among men has far surpassed that of women (the celibacy rate was 2.6% of male and 4.3% of female population in 1980 and 15.6% and 7.2% in 2005 respectively: cf. http://www.stat.go.jp/english/data/kokusei/2005/kihon1/00/03.htm).

Issues surrounding single persons have caused a kind of ‘moral panic’ in Japan, fueled in part by the mass media. Unmarried persons have attracted the attention of society by being labeled parasite singles by the sociologist Masahiro Yamada (Era of Parasite Single, 1999, Chikuma). This term was originally based on the understanding that ‘young persons’ in their 20s and 30s opted for a singles’ lifestyle on the basis of their values: i.e. to maintain their standard of living by residing with their parent(s) and remaining financially dependent on them, while enjoying the life of a single person, without the burden of caring for a family of their own.

However, a recent article in Asahi Shimbun (dated 12 June 2010) has highlighted the fact that there are those who choose to lead a single life, not based on their choice of a singles’ life over marriage, but due to the necessity to look after their elderly parents or handicapped members of their family. It is also indicated that the number of persons who leave or change jobs so as to care for their elderly parents is on the increase. The said article does, nevertheless, point out that organizations have been established in order to support and assist those who have no choice but to remain single (for instance, Aladdin - Support Network Work Centre: http://www12.ocn.ne.jp/~arajin/ and Society of Siblings Supporting their Handicapped Family Members: http://www.normanet.ne.jp/~kyodai/.

Since the period of rapid economic grow in the 1960s, the composition of the family, role expectations, as well as individual and societal views towards the family have undergone a major transformation. As a consequence, it can perhaps be said that the notion of “strong family ties” is now but a myth. Following the bursting of the bubble in the early 1990s, the financial power of Japanese families has declined and yet social support systems are unable to provide full assistance to those with difficulties caring for their families. There is certainly evidence to lend support to the article’s claim that such reasons are pushing up the number of unmarried people.

Satoshi Minamikata, satoshi@jura.niigata-u.ac.jp

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Implications for a Global Phenomenon

Post by wardle on Tue Aug 10, 2010 2:35 pm

The discussion of young single adults in Japan sounds very familiar to Americans and American scholars. Similar developments have been noted in the United States, as the age of marriage has significantly increased, dependency on parents has extended, and postponement of other adult self-reliant responsibilities has spread. A few years ago this was the subject of a popular movie "Failure to Launch" that poked fun at older singles living at home with their parents. There are examples of the "parasitic singles" syndrome in many affluent countries. But this posting also notes that external conditions may account for some of the problem. With the job market being very tight and the economic future not very bright, it is not surprising to find many more young adults living with their parents and family. Throughout American history, the family has functioned as an economic safety net in times of hardship, illness, death, and other family crises. So the phenomenon is hardly novel or unprecedented. Indeed, it may in some cases signify the strength of the nuclear and extended family, as well as the weakening of commitment to form such families by some members of the contemporary generation. This Japanese report suggests not only the problems but shows understanding in searching for solutions.
Lynn Wardle
wardlel@law.byu.edu

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