Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

EIJS Working Paper Series,
Stockholm School of Economics, The European Institute of Japanese Studies

No 201: Divorce in Japan: Why It Happens, Why It Doesn’t

Hiroshi Ono ()
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Hiroshi Ono: Texas A&M University, Postal: Department of Sociology, 416 Academic Building, College Station, TX 77843-4351, USA

Abstract: In this paper I address two critical questions about divorce in postwar Japan: Why is the divorce rate so low compared to other industrialized economies? And, Why is it rising? I examine divorce in the context of institutional change, and discuss how the rising divorce rate in Japan is an outcome of the dynamic interactions between economic development and demographic change at the macro-level, and changes in social norms and attitudes that govern the behavior of individuals at the micro-level. The divorce rate in Japan is rising because there is a tradeoff between marital stability and gender equality. The drive towards equal status between the sexes narrows the dependency between the spouses, and offsets the costs and benefits of marriage. Lower dependency allows greater voice, and lowers the cost of exiting a marriage. The diversity of family forms such as civil unions and cohabitation allows couples to choose alternatives to marriage, which in turn weakens the institution of marriage. Alternatively, the divorce rate in Japan is low compared to the U.S. and Europe because dependency between the spouses is greater, alternatives to marriage are fewer, and the legacy of the traditional gender division of labor continues to influence the actions and attitudes of men and women.

Keywords: Japan; institutional change; divorce; gender; norms; dependency; cohabitation; marriage; children.

JEL-codes: J12; J16; K00

24 pages, First version: October 8, 2004. Revised: January 26, 2006.

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