Volume 43 - Article 37 | Pages 1081–1118  

Marriage counterfactuals in Japan: Variation by gender, marital status, and time

By Martin Piotrowski, Erik Bond, Ann Beutel


Background: This paper takes a unique perspective on the debate surrounding the deinstitutionalization of marriage. Rather than examining how diversification of family behaviors (external context) relates to marriage, it considers how perceptions of marriage dimensions (the internal context) vary across relevant stakeholders.

Objective: We ask whether perceived consequences of marriage differ for people who married vs. people who never married and men vs. women and over time.

Methods: Based on data from the 1994 National Survey on Work and Family Life in Japan and the 2000 and 2009 National Survey of Family and Economic Conditions (NSFEC) in Japan (N = 8,467) we use unique measures of perceived consequences of marriage (“marriage counterfactuals”) to examine social, economic, psychological, and personal dimensions (i.e., respect, living standard, emotional security, freedom, and overall satisfaction).

Results: Ordinal regression results reveal that marital perceptions worsened over time (in terms of living standard and freedom), consistent with worsening economic conditions. We also find that people who have never been married tend to view marriage more favorably than their married counterparts (especially freedom and respect), while men view marriage consequences (except for living standard) more favorably than women.

Conclusions: Despite more negative change over time in perceptions of marriage among people who never married than people who have married, the traditional breadwinner-homemaker model of marriage continues to be important and influential in Japan, and cultural beliefs regarding traditional marriage persist in spite of structural changes.

Contribution: Research and theory on family change should pay more attention to the internal marriage context more fully than they have in the past.

Author's Affiliation

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