The single life

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Statistics recently released by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry show that the number of single parents is on the increase, and has been since 2006. This makes sense since the divorce rate is also rising, but what’s makes the statistics noteworthy is that more and more single mothers are women who have either never been married or were married but gave birth after their marriage ended.

Right now, the ministry estimates there are about 1,520,000 households in Japan headed by single monthers, and about 200,000 headed by single fathers. Though the statistics are a bit old, the Ministry of Internal Affairs conducted surveys of “never-married” single mothers in 2000 and 2005, and between those two years the number of single mothers between the ages of 15 and 49 increased by 39 percent. However, when you break this number down by age groups, you find that the biggest increases are among women over 30: 57 percent for 30-34; 45 percent for 35-39; and 56 percent for 40-44. In terms of real numbers these increases don’t represent very much since the portion of children born out of wedlock in Japan is only about 1 percent.

The welfare ministry’s more recent stats, or, at least, those that were reported by the media, didn’t provide this breakdown, but since they did report that the overall number of single mothers increased, it’s probably a safe bet that the increase is, again, mainly among older women. In a related article, the Asahi Shimbun stated the obvious, that more and more women, married or otherwise, are waiting until later in their lives to have children. A representative of an organization called the Single Mothers Forum told the paper that the increase is significant given that single mothers still face social and administrative discrimination in Japan, and few, if any, can expect support from their families. Since abortion is a well-used option in Japan, it seems that many women are going through with perhaps unexpected pregnancies because they really want to have children even if they don’t have a partner with which to raise the child.

Asahi ran a portrait of one such woman whose case was nevertheless quite unusual. She is 41 and has a 2-year-old daughter. Her boyfriend died in a car accident before she realized she was pregnant. During her 20s and 30s she concentrated on her career and didn’t think she would be able to marry and have a family. At one point she was making ¥10 million a year and had “everything I wanted,” but subsequently she lost that job in the recession. She now makes about ¥5 million, and though it’s difficult to raise a child on that salary, she sounds satisfied with her life. Moreover, she says that many of her colleagues who also abandoned the idea of having a family in favor of a career now openly express envy for her situation: in other words, working for herself and raising a child. Having a husband seems to have little to do with it.

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