The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

COVID pandemic exacerbate­s decline in marriage

- By Masanori Nojima Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

Marriage is on the wane in Japan. According to the latest gures, the number of couples tying the knot hit a historic low in 2021. In the past, marriage was a milestone event for over 90% of men and women. Now, however, nearly one in four men and one in six women will never marry.

People considerin­g getting married may have heard the term “June bride.” e phrase is thought to have its origin in a European legend that said women who wed in June will be happy. e term is also believed to have connection­s with Juno, the mythologic­al Roman goddess of marriage.

However, June marriages are relatively uncommon in Japan, likely because the sixth month coincides with the rainy season. e most popular months for nuptials are September through November and March through May, when the weather is more clement.

Neverthele­ss, the institutio­n of marriage is falling out of favor. According to Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry demographi­c statistics, there were about 500,000 marriages in 2021 — the lowest gure since the end of World War II, and less than half the 1972 peak, when the baby-boom generation was around 25 years old.

But this sharp decline cannot be explained solely by a drop in number of young people caused by the declining birthrate.


“Japanese people’s regard for marriage has changed dramatical­ly over the past 40 years,” said Ayumu Ochiai, director of the Recruit Bridal Research institute.

According to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, the lifetime unmarried rate — the percentage of people who have never married by the age of 50 — was 2.6% for men and 4.5% for women in 1980. By 2020, these gures had risen to 25.7% and 16.4%, respective­ly.

An increasing number of people are putting less priority on marriage and attaching more importance to other aspects of their — single — life, such as career advancemen­t.

Ochiai opined that unless people are willing to proactivel­y pursue marriage, known as “konkatsu” (marriage hunting) in Japan, they may nd it di cult to nd a partner.

It is this change in attitudes, as well as the decline in the number of young people due to the declining birthrate, that has led to marriage’s fall from ubiquity.

Based on data from a ve-yearly survey conducted by seven member countries of the Organizati­on for Economic Cooperatio­n and Developmen­t

in scal 2018, 50.9% of respondent­s in Japan said it was “preferable to be married,” representi­ng an 11.6 percentage point fall from the previous survey.

Despite this drop, Japan’s gure was second only to the United States (52.7%) and higher than that of the U.K. (47.4%), South Korea (46.1%), Germany (45.9%) and France (41.5%). Conversely, 35.4% of respondent­s in Japan said it was “preferable to remain unmarried,” the lowest gure among the seven surveyed countries. It could be said that Japanese people are still highly interested in getting married.


Matrimony’s long-term downward trend is being further exacerbate­d by the novel coronaviru­s pandemic. Recently, many people have been opting to stay home rather than going out to socialize, which has meant fewer opportunit­ies to meet new people and develop relationsh­ips that may lead to marriage. is trend is expected to continue for some time to come.

e decline in wedlock has a ected Japan’s social structure. Here, marriage is strongly linked to pregnancy and childbirth. “e fall in the number of marriages is directly linked to a decrease in newborns, the future bearers of society,” said Kanako Amano, a senior researcher in demographi­cs at the NLI Research Institute.

is decrease has led to a

societal sense of crisis that has prompted some local government­s to introduce AI-based matchmakin­g initiative­s. According to the Cabinet O ce, 22 prefecture­s were operating AI-based matching systems as of Aug. 1, 2021. Saitama Prefecture’s online matchmakin­g service led to 128 marriages in FY2021.


During the economic bubble that spanned the Showa and Heisei eras (1926-1989 and 1989-2019, respective­ly), the term “3-highs” (high income, high education, and high stature) was popular among women seeking a marriage partner.

Data for the Reiwa era (2019-) di ers slightly, however. In December, A Tokyo-based associatio­n that o ers courses to build good relationsh­ips surveyed about 400 women ages 25-49 nationwide. e top requiremen­t for both married and unmarried women seeking a partner was “earning ability,” with 28.6% of never-married women saying their “ideal annual income” is “between ¥6 million and ¥8 million,” while 20.3% cited “between ¥4 million and ¥6


According to the National Tax Agency, the average annual income for men in 2020 was ¥5.32 million. e gure for ages 25 through 29 was ¥3.93 million, and ¥4.58 million for 30-34-year-olds. ere appears to be a considerab­le gap between “ideal incomes” and reality.

“A er the burst of the bubble economy, lifetime employment collapsed and the number of non-regular employees increased,” said Masahiro Yamada, a professor of family sociology at Chuo University and an expert on marriage trends. “e idea that men are responsibl­e for household nances is deeply rooted, and this has led to a decline in marriage numbers.”

Even so, a survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research found that nearly 90% of young people wanted to get married someday, but various factors, such as living expenses, housing, and concerns about balancing work and child-rearing, were holding them back.

Measures are needed to reduce such disincenti­ves and encourage young people to wed. (July 31)

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 ?? Yomiuri Shimbun file photo ?? Fifty single people attend a matchmakin­g party in Shimonosek­i, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in January.
Yomiuri Shimbun file photo Fifty single people attend a matchmakin­g party in Shimonosek­i, Yamaguchi Prefecture, in January.

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