Volume 44 - Article 3 | Pages 67–98  

Marriage intentions, desires, and pathways to later and less marriage in Japan

By James Raymo, Fumiya Uchikoshi, Shohei Yoda

This article is part of the Special Collection 30 "Family Changes and Inequality in East Asia"


Background: Understanding the trend toward later and less marriage is particularly important in low-fertility societies where alternatives to marriage are limited and childbearing outside of marriage remains rare.

Objective: Our goal in this paper is to advance our understanding of the wide variety of explanations offered for later and less marriage in Japan by focusing explicitly on marriage intentions and desires.

Methods: Using two sources of nationally representative data, we describe the prevalence of positive, negative, and passive marriage intentions and desires among men and women who have never been married. We also examine socioeconomic differences in intentions, patterns of marriage desires across young adulthood, and relationships between marriage desires and outcomes. By linking three pathways to later and less marriage (rejection of marriage, failure to realize marriage desires, and unplanned drifting into singlehood) to specific theoretical frameworks, we generate indirect insights into explanations for later and less marriage.

Conclusions: Although the large majority of unmarried men and women want to marry, less than half of respondents married across nine waves of the Japanese Life Course Panel Survey. Among those who remained unmarried, roughly two-thirds can be classified as ‘drifting’ into singlehood, about 30% as ‘failing to realize marriage desires,’ and no more than 5% as ‘rejecting marriage.’

Contribution: By extending the small body of research on marriage intentions and desires, this study provides a framework for thinking broadly about explanations for later and less marriage in Japan and highlights the importance of both failure to realize marriage desires and unplanned drifting into singlehood.

Author's Affiliation

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Educational Differences in Divorce in Japan
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