Volume 49 - Article 16 | Pages 423–464  

An alternative version of the second demographic transition? Changing pathways to first marriage in Japan

By Ryohei Mogi, James Raymo, Miho Iwasawa, Shohei Yoda


Background: Growth in cohabiting unions and non-marital childbearing sits at the core of research on the second demographic transition and related discussions of family bifurcation and children’s diverging destinies.

Objective: How should we think about these two highly influential and purportedly universal depictions of family change in low-fertility countries where the link between marriage and childbearing remains strong? Using data from large national surveys in Japan, we address this question by describing growing heterogeneity in pathways to first marriage, with a focus on the temporal ordering of cohabitation, pregnancy, engagement, initiation of living together as married, and registration of marriage.

Results: Our descriptive analyses demonstrate a substantial increase across marriage cohorts in variation in pathways to family formation in Japan, primarily reflecting growth in premarital cohabitation. Among women in the 2010–2015 marriage cohort, 39% cohabited with their husband prior to marriage. Educational differences in cohabitation experience are small, but cohabitation is more likely to be associated with premarital pregnancy for women with lower levels of educational attainment.

Contribution: Our descriptive summary of trends and differences in pathways to first marriage provides not only a needed update on changing pathways to family formation in Japan, but also a valuable empirical basis for contextual modification or adaptation of two of the most influential theoretical frameworks for understanding family change in low-fertility societies.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

Marriage intentions, desires, and pathways to later and less marriage in Japan
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Educational differences in early childbearing: A cross-national comparative study
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Educational Differences in Divorce in Japan
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Marital Dissolution in Japan: Recent Trends and Patterns
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The association between childlessness and voting turnout in 38 countries
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Order matters: The effect of premarital pregnancy on second childbearing in Japan
Volume 39 - Article 48

Expected years ever married
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Living alone in Japan: Relationships with happiness and health
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