Long have advocates of the traditional family unit bemoaned the death of marriage and long have internet smart alecks made fun of their ridiculous claims that it's being destroyed by gays, divorce, or the Kardashians. While the institution of marriage is changing in America, in Asia, it's sharply growing more and more unpopular, and much of that is due to the choices of women. This has some experts alarmed.
Reports The Economist,
Marriage ages have risen all over the world, but the increase is particularly marked in Asia. People there now marry even later than they do in the West. The mean age of marriage in the richest places-Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong-has risen sharply in the past few decades, to reach 29-30 for women and 31-33 for men.
Not only are Asians waiting until later in life to marry, but, in many cases, they're foregoing it entirely.
In 2010 a third of Japanese women entering their 30s were single. Perhaps half or more of those will never marry. In 2010 37% of all women in Taiwan aged 30-34 were single, as were 21% of 35-39-year-olds. This, too, is more than in Britain and America, where only 13-15% of those in their late 30s are single. If women are unmarried entering their 40s, they will almost certainly neither marry nor have a child.
Backlash-era hand-wringing aside, the rise in women choosing to be single has occurred quickly, and along with the drop off in marriage is a dramatic fall in the fertility rate. In the 1960's, an Asian woman could expect to have 5.3 children in her lifetime; now, it's 1.6. A shortage of young people in a society is generally bad for a society, as China's impending One Child Policy problem can attest. (So, too, is a shortage of women. Some experts estimate that while China and India hasn't experienced the same decrease in percentage of women marrying, both countries' recent history of sex-selective abortion will soon lead to a shortage of marriageable women. In 2050, experts estimate that there will be 60 million more men than women in China and India.)
Why are Asian women choosing not to marry? The Economist reports that in many Asian cultures, being a wife can sometimes resemble working a thankless second job.
Women there are the primary caregivers for husbands, children and, often, for ageing parents; and even when in full-time employment, they are expected to continue to play this role. This is true elsewhere in the world, but the burden that Asian women carry is particularly heavy. Japanese women, who typically work 40 hours a week in the office, then do, on average, another 30 hours of housework. Their husbands, on average, do three hours. And Asian women who give up work to look after children find it hard to return when the offspring are grown.
In addition to being expected to care for their families, strict laws in many Asian countries make divorce difficult for women to obtain. Furthermore, divorce settlements often leave women in worse shape than they'd be in if they'd never married in the first place.
In short, expectations of women in the context of the Asian marriage have failed to evolve with changing opportunities for women.
Two forces are giving women more autonomy: education and jobs. Women's education in East Asia has improved dramatically over the past 30 years, and has almost erased the literacy gap with men. Girls stay at school for as many years as boys, and illiteracy rates for 15-24-year-olds are the same for the two sexes (this is not true of South Asia). In South Korea now, women earn half of all master's degrees.
Officials are stymied about how to counter the rapid spike in women realizing that the traditional marriage combined with a modern career often gives them a raw deal. Cultural change can't be legislated, but unless traditional models of Asian marriage begin to expect more of men, this crazy trend of women thinking that they should only enter institutions wherein they can expect to be treated fairly will continue.
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