Volume 44 - Article 10 | Pages 239–276

Singlehood in contemporary Japan: Rating, dating, and waiting for a good match

By Mary C. Brinton, Eunmi Mun, Ekaterina Hertog

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Date received:13 May 2020
Date published:05 Feb 2021
Word count:9318
Keywords:educational hypergamy, Japan, marital sorting, mate selection, online dating, partner preferences, preference adjustment
Additional files:44-10_Online Supplementary Table (pdf file, 12 kB)
Weblink:You will find all publications in this Special Collection on Family Changes and Inequality in East Asia here.


Background: Late age at marriage and rising rates of singlehood increasingly characterize East Asian societies. For Japan, these are major contributors to the very low birth rate.

Objective: We analyze two unique data sets: dating records covering a two-year period from one of Japan’s largest marriage agencies and in-depth interviews with 30 highly-educated Japanese singles. The longitudinal nature of the quantitative data allows us to test hypotheses about how single men’s and women’s preferences for partners’ characteristics adjust over time. The qualitative data provides a more fine-grained look at Japanese singles’ partner preferences.

Methods: We employ fixed-effects regression models to analyze Japanese men’s and women’s preferences for the relative and absolute education, income, and age of potential marriage partners.

Results: Both the quantitative and qualitative data suggest that Japanese women continue to highly value men’s income-earning capacity. Men, in contrast, value a partner with moderate income-earning potential. Women’s and men’s preferences for partner’s education are somewhat weaker, and women broaden their educational preference over time.

Conclusions: Japanese men’s and women’s preferences for a potential partner’s characteristics are largely consistent with Becker’s theory of gender-role specialization. But we also find evidence consistent with Oppenheimer’s expectation that men are coming to value women’s income-earning capacity more highly than in the past.

Contribution: We use a unique Japanese data set featuring dating records over a two-year period to examine the appropriateness of theories of marital sorting proposed by Becker and Oppenheimer. Our quantitative analysis is complemented by in-depth interviews with Japanese singles.

Author's Affiliation

Mary C. Brinton - Harvard University, United States of America [Email]
Eunmi Mun - University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, United States of America [Email]
Ekaterina Hertog - University of Oxford, United Kingdom [Email]

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