Source: Shantaryna-Payne / Unsplash
Like American women, in many other developed countries women marry later and are in no hurry to have babies. Increasingly, a good number choose to live single without fanfare. In Japan and South Korea, however, women make publicly visible promises to remain single.
Weddings without a groom
Japanese women buy wedding dresses and hold no groom ceremonies to make a statement that they will commit to life without traditional marriage. Mari Miura, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo, told a New York Times reporter that when Japanese women “get married, they have to give up so many things … so many freedoms and so much independence.” Because of the intense and demanding male work culture in Japan, women receive little childcare or domestic help from their husbands. For single Japanese women, “their married friends with children serve as a warning story,” notes Motoko Rich in her New York Times article.
South Korean women have their traditional mothers and grandmothers to remind them of the life they do not want to lead. In South Korea, less than half of women consider marriage essential. Bloomberg News spoke to Baeck Ha-na, one of those women. She is an accountant and YouTube star with large numbers of women for whom she “lives life alone”.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, Jung Se-young, the YouTube co-host of Baeck Ha-na, told Bloomberg, “This traditional role [marriage and motherhood] If we’re forced from a boys-only soccer field in school to a boys club in a company office, we’re already second-class citizens, and I don’t want to be used just as a tool for making babies. “
Like the pejorative “spinster” we add to unmarried American women, the derogatory label for unmarried women in Japan is “Christmas cake” and refers to stale baked goods that cannot be sold after the end of the year. In South Korea, unmarried women are negatively labeled “mi-hon,” but labels do not seem to detract from their determination to escape what they consider to be the domestic drudgery of marriage and motherhood.
The fallout from “Live-Alone Life”
The consequences of fewer marriages can be seen in falling birth rates. With seven babies per thousand people, South Korea has one of the lowest birth rates in developed countries. Japan and Hong Kong as well as India and other countries have similarly low birth rates. In contrast, the US birth rate, although low, is hovering around the replacement level of 2.1.
Falling birth rates are affecting the economy and worrying governments trying to convince women to marry and have children. In South Korea, the government started a blind date program with the intent that those dates would lead to marriage and eventually more babies. Speaking to Bloomberg News, Baeck Ha-na said the government’s attempts to “increase birth rates” were “abusive” and “frustrating” because of the lack of legal opportunities to safeguard maternal careers or alleviate financial pressures not eliminate parenting. “
China, France and other countries have also tried various incentives to increase birth rates, including improving workplace policies and / or paying money to families with more babies, but most have been largely unsuccessful.
When American women choose to go alone
Here in the US there is certainly a trend towards non-marriage, but it looks different. When American women choose to go alone, they do so without veiled ceremonies or cult followers on YouTube and Twitter. And while they rule out marriage, they often keep the option of parenthood without a partner open.
Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., an expert on living single, explains that the number of single people “continues to grow and grow … and a greater proportion of women who have children are not married”. While the happily unmarried numbers have grown quietly with no individual public pledges or announcements, single women (and married women, too) are more likely to have children than they were 10 years ago, though they’ll become mothers later, according to the Pew Research Center.
Do Japanese and Korean Women Follow American Feminist Leadership? Or will we soon see American single life engagement ceremonies and more loyal followers like Baeck Ha-nas fans denying marriage and motherhood online and in the news media?
Copyright @ 2019 by Susan Newman