Monday, August 03, 2009

Marriage Markets, Japanese Style

Fad or crisis? Japan’s ‘marriage hunting’ craze:

The twenty- to forty-somethings are part of a new fad sweeping Japan: “konkatsu” or “marriage-hunting,” a word play on “job hunting” that suggests finding Mr or Mrs Right is a matter of good research and thorough planning.

This year Japan has gone konkatsu-crazy, with the trend spawning countless magazine articles, a weekly TV drama and a best-selling book.

A Tokyo shrine now offers konkatsu prayer services, a Hokkaido baseball team has set up special seats for those looking for mates, and a Tokyo ward office arranges dating excursions to restaurants and aquariums.

A lingerie maker has even come up with a konkatsu bra with a ticking clock that can be stopped by inserting an engagement ring.

Japan – known for its strong work ethic that can squeeze social time, and for its declining birth rates – seems to be getting its mojo back.
It remains to be seen if Japan has truly gotten it's "mojo" back. The only evidence of this will be increasing marriage and/or birth rates.
Social observers see a variety of reasons for konkatsu’s popularity, including Japan’s current recession which may be leading some women to choose marriage over career in a search for financial stability.

Japan’s government has thrown its support behind konkatsu to boost the birth rate of just 1.37 children per woman, hoping to slow the decline of the ageing population, which is projected to shrink nearly 30 percent by 2055.

An advisory panel to the cabinet last month proposed a 10-point plan to raise the low birth rate, including the promotion of “love and marriage", possibly by organising matchmaking events.
If there are underlying economic realities such as increasing costs of raising children, greater economic opportunity for women (increasing their opportunity cost both for having children and entering traditional marriage), etc., then government programs will probably only have limited effect.

Here is why this is such an important issue for Japan:

Marriage rates have fallen sharply between 1975 and 2005 – from 85 percent to 51 percent for men aged 30 to 34, and from 90 percent to 63 percent for women of the same age, according to census data.

“Currently some 4,000 match-making agencies do business in Japan, with a total membership of some 620,000,” she said. “About half of local governments also give similar matching services, especially in rural farming areas.

"But the successful mating rate through such an agency stays as low as eight percent,” she added. “People don’t have communication skills good enough to find a partner, no matter how many candidates they meet.

“Konkatsu is not a bad thing,” she said. “But we need to study what brought the marriage crisis to the country in the first place.”
Increasing costs for having/raising kids combined with strong norms for traditional gender roles in marriage and increasing economic opportunity for women may have something to do with it. As the opportunity cost for women entering marriage increases and they are better able to support themselves independently, traditional gender roles may look increasingly bad causing a decrease in female demand for marriage. While this is not a full explanation, I think these forces help give a partial explanation for these trends.

(HT Tyler Cowen)

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