Attitudes about money continue to affect marriage prospects

December 1st, 2014 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Head first: Newly married couple having their picture taken at a park in Makuhari

Head first: Newly married couple having their picture taken at a park in Makuhari

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has characterized the upcoming general election as a referendum for his fiscal policies, popularly known as “Abenomics,” so it’s not surprising that the opposition has focused on those policies as a means of discrediting his administration.

The Democratic Party of Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, recently gave a public speech from a sound truck in Yamagata City, and talked mainly about the effect that Abenomics has had on employment. Abe brags about creating new jobs with his policy, but Edano contends that these jobs are not the kind that allow young people to “get married and start families,” since they are mostly temporary or contract work (haken) that doesn’t guarantee a stable future. “At the very least, we have to increase the number of jobs that guarantee stability, otherwise we can’t call it an employment policy,” he said.

Edano has a point, though he may not realize how sharp it actually is. Last year, the marriage information company O-Net, which is part of the Rakuten Group, conducted a survey of single men and women in the Tokyo metropolitan area between the ages of 25 and 39 to find out their prospects for marriage. When asked why they were not married, the most common answer (multiple responses were allowed) for both genders was that they “don’t have a chance to meet people of the opposite sex.”

The second most common answer for men was that they are “worried about the economy and their employment situation,” a response that women didn’t make at all. In fact, women’s main worries about marriage were whether or not they would be able to “fall in love” or retain their “freedom” after marriage. However, fewer male respondents — 29 percent — were concerned with their money situation than there were in 2012, when 34 percent expressed financial anxieties.

These concerns became further delineated when the subjects were asked about the amount of income they “hoped” their future spouses would make. The average annual salary that female respondents desired for prospective husbands was around ¥5.5 million, while for male respondents it was ¥1.35 million, thus implying that men still don’t expect their wives to hold full-time regular jobs. The average figure cited, in fact, is just slightly higher than the ¥1.03 million a year that is the legal cut-off point for income taxes. Homemakers who make less than that amount are exempt from paying tax.

Of course, the survey was conducted before Abe started promoting better jobs and salaries for women as a means of improving the economy, but the idea that men are the breadwinners in a marriage still seems to hold sway, and as it stands, the female respondents’ reply as to what they expected their spouse to make is statistically close to reality: In Japan, the average income for a household of at least two people where the head of household is between 30 and 40 is ¥5.45 million.

However, it was ¥6.6 million in 1985, thus reinforcing Edano’s claim that people of marriageable age today are less financially secure than their counterparts were in the past. More troubling is the median income, which is now ¥4.32 million, a 2 percent drop from 2013, and the fourth lowest figure since the government started keeping these statistics in 1985.

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