A record proportion of men and women in Japan say they do not intend to marry, a trend experts have warned will undermine efforts to address the country’s population crisis.
The National Institute of Population and Social Security – a government-affiliated body in Tokyo – said the results of its 2021 survey, published this month, would add to concerns about the low birth rate.
According to the survey, 17.3% of men and 14.6% of women aged between 18 and 34 said they had no intention of ever tying the knot – the highest figure since the questionnaire was first conducted in 1982.
In that survey, taken just before the rise of the bubble economy in the mid-1980s, just 2.3% of men and 4.1% of women said they would never marry.
The decline in marriages has had consequences for Japan’s birth rate as it faces the prospect of dramatic depopulation and a shrinking workforce and economy.
Experts have attributed the trend to several factors, including a growing desire among young working women to enjoy the freedoms that come with being single and having a career.
Men say they also enjoy being single, but also voice concern over job security and their ability to provide for a family. Experts have called on the government to make it easier for women to return to work after having children and to address Japan’s notoriously long working hours.
Asked what constituted an “ideal” lifestyle for women, almost 40% of surveyed single men and 34% of single women cited the ability to balance a career with raising children. In a sign of shifting attitudes towards gender roles, less than 7% of men said they would like their future spouse to stay at home to look after the family.
Shigeki Matsuda, a sociology professor at Chukyo University in central Japan, said the declining marriage trend would adversely affect the birth rate.
“The Japanese government has been working to increase the birth rate by trying to help those who wish to get married or have children fulfill their aspirations,” he told the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
“But if the number of people who don’t want to marry continues to increase, the government will be forced to review its policies, and it could lead to a further decline in fertility.”
The number of babies born in Japan in 2021 fell by 29,231, or 3.5%, from the previous year to a record low of 811,604, the health ministry said in June. The number of marriages fell by 24,391 to 501,116, the lowest figure since the end of the second world war.
Government data released in May showed that Japan’s population fell by a record 644,000 last year – the 11th consecutive year of decline. The data prompted an intervention from Elon Musk, who warned that Japan would “cease to exist” unless it relaxed rules on immigration and did more to promote a healthier work-life balance.
The Tesla chief executive was criticised on social media for “overreacting” and singling out Japan, given that it is not the only developed economy experiencing long-term population decline.