The divorce rate peaked in 2020 and is now falling. Does that mean marriage is resurging?
No, says Spa! (Oct 12).
Married couples are “zombifying,” is the magazine’s melancholy conclusion. Instead of divorcing, as they once might have, they grimly endure each other. It’s better, or seems so, than the foreseeable alternatives – prominent among them financial insecurity amid declining wages and emotional insecurity as the lingering COVID-19 crisis corrodes the strength to face the world alone.
There are no doubt many reasons why marriage, so hopefully embarked upon, so quickly turns sour for so many. Spa! zeroes in on one – the double-income household.
It’s become standard. Some 12.4 million households are double-income – twice the figure for those in which the wife is a full-time homemaker.
It’s an evolution the government is actively encouraging – without, however, doing much to change deeply entrenched social and family customs which work against it, namely long working hours and an ingrained tendency to see household chores and child-raising as essentially the wife’s domain, whether she works or not.
“Ryuichi Honma” (a pseudonym) is 35 and has been married five years. He and his wife have two small daughters. He works in real estate. This is how he describes his life: “At work and at home, I’ve reached a dead end.”
His job is part-time. He took it after fleeing a “black company” whose working conditions he found intolerably exploitive. He was given to understand that promotion to full-time was a distinct possibility, but after a year he’s still waiting. He admits that his performance during the first year left something to be desired. He’s struggling to do better. But the support a happy home would give is not forthcoming.
The marriage went bad after the birth of the second child, he says. The strains of raising two toddlers on a part-time salary – 4 million a year with no bonuses or other benefits – can be crushing. His wife, also a part-time worker, is now on childcare leave. Exhaustion is undermining her health. Her demands for help from him around the house are quite reasonable, he concedes – especially now that the coronavirus has him working mostly from home. But he feels he must give work his full attention. How else can he prove himself worthy of the full-time status and salary that would ease the financial strain? Perhaps then his wife could quit her job and be a full-time housewife – the most promising solution, as far as he’s concerned.
Divorce? The thought has crossed his mind. But no – “I could never leave the girls. Maybe as they get bigger, things will get better,” he says. It’s the hope that keeps him going.
“Kazuo Kishima” (also a pseudonym), at 49 has been married 25 years. Two of three children are grown and out of the house; the youngest is 14. “Not that we quarrel or anything,” he says of his relationship with his wife – but it’s been years since they’ve talked about anything apart from immediate household business. What’s the point of staying together? None, he says, once the last of the parental responsibilities have been fulfilled. Except one, he adds as an afterthought: financial.
Do most marriages sink into this leaden torpor? Certainly many do. The practical concerns are overwhelming. Kishima is in the event planning industry, working long hours, often deep into the night, earning 6.8 million yen a year pre-corona, 4.8 million now. The additional 2 million his wife’s part-time job brings in is no luxury. The family couldn’t make ends meet without it.
And so things drag on, and will probably continue to even after the youngest child has left the nest, from sheer inertia if not from the deeper uneasiness about facing the world alone on a single inadequate income, after decades of family life, however tense.
That’s what Spa! means by “zombification.”© Japan Today