The image of Japanese salarymen working until late, drinking with colleagues, and then not wanting to go home to their unhappy marriages is a common one in Japan. Yet Japan is also well-known for its low divorce rates.. well, at least up until now that is..!
Blokes be aware – times are changing and those miserable Japanese housewives who have been slaving away in the kitchen for decades for their ungrateful husbands are about to get their long-awaited revenge and the divorce rate is set to sky-rocket from April next year!
A Split Pension Payment law (厚生年金の分割制度) has somehow passed its way through the unhappily-married-male-dominated Japanese Government, changing the rules of pension payments from April 2007, allowing divorced (and disgruntled) wives to get their hands on 50% of the husband’s pension payouts.
Currently, 100% of the pension payments are made into the “head of the household’s”, i.e. husband’s, bank account, and he then decides whether or not his wife sees any of it. Therefore, this was extremely disadvantageous to divorced wives, as they effectively could not receive Government pension payments. This helped to keep divorces low, and added no doubt to the misery of trapped housewives. However, this will change from next year, and the pundits are predicting a huge spike in divorces.
The below graph shows the increase in divorce rates in Japan. It is easy to see the steep drop over the last three years. This decline in divorce rates is directly attributed to the large number of women waiting until next year, so they get their share of their husband’s pension!
Japan has an interesting history of economic conditions and regulations effecting divorce rates. The above graph doesn’t show it, but the divorce rate prior to 1900 was extremely high. Some estimates say as high as 40% in many areas. This then dropped substantially up until the 30′s and 40′s, then has been rising slowly since.
Pre-1900, the cost of marriage in Japan was extremely low. Most local customs required only small dowry payments (from the bride to the groom’s family), and in most cases these dowries were returned in the event of a divorce! These dowries typically consisted of several items of clothing wrapped in a piece of cloth. While women from wealthier families sometimes brought land, money, and other valuables into their marriages, popular customs strongly affirmed the right of the divorced wife to receive her dowry back, as this return was designed to be a facilitator of remarriage.
Marriage was thus something that could be done, and undone very easily, possibly contributing to the Japanese concept of marriage not being sacred, and also having a relaxed attitude towards adultery?
Then, in 1898, the Meiji Civil Code came into effect, divorce became more costly and difficult, and divorce rates dropped by half over the next two years. One comment from a man in the 1930′s contrasts the popularity of elaborate marriage rituals at major shrines in his day with the much lower costs of marriage in the past. In his youth, he recalled, “one could get married for five yen. That is why divorce was so frequent; for five yen you could go to a restaurant, visit a whorehouse, or get married. As a result one broke up marriages without much thought. Now, however, so much money goes into them that one thinks a long time before getting a divorce”.
In the same way, the new Split Pension Payment laws next year are likely to create a huge increase in the number of divorces. And also, as the incentive for women seeking to marry divorced pensioners with only half the economic means as before, the marriage rate is also expected to drop slightly.
The highest rates of divorce, and thus regions likely to be hardest hit are Okinawa, Hokkaido (must be something in the country air!), Osaka, Fukuoka, and Kochi. The higher rates are represented by darker colours here.
I guess we can also predict that the number of salarymen and their length of stay at the local bars and yakitoriyas to increase, although with less disposable income, they might not be drinking from the top shelf!