Are Asian women really rejecting marriage?

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David Quinn of the Iona Institute in Ireland has a different take on The Economist's story...

The cover story of The Economist last week was called ‘Asia’s lonely hearts: Why Asian women are rejecting marriage and what that means’. The picture on the front was of a lovelorn Asian man, rose in hand, and a woman striding purposefully away from him.

The story was really about East Asian women. It told us that throughout East Asia, in countries like Japan and South Korea, the age at which men and women marry has risen to 29-30 in the case of women, and 31-33 in the case of men.

It reports that a third of Japanese women in their early 30s are unmarried and “perhaps half of those always will be”.

In Taiwan, a fifth of women in their late 30s are single, and in Bangkok a fifth of women aged 40-44 are unmarried.

It says that this trend has not yet affected either China or India.

It attributes the delay by East Asian women in getting married, or not getting married at all, to two main causes. One is that more and more are going on to third level education and that on its own will mean delaying marriage.

The second is that they believe most of the workload of family life is placed on their shoulders, much more of it than in Western countries. For example, they are expected not only to look after their children, but also aged parents, even when they are working full-time.

The article gives the very strong impression that marriage is something best avoided by women. For example, one drawing has a successful and modern looking woman rejecting the hand-cuffs of marriage.

The article has nothing good to say about marriage. In fact, having read it is a wonder any East Asian women marry, unless forced by families as in parts of South Asia, or by a ticking biological clock in societies which still frown on out-of-wedlock births, as is still the case in Asia.

What the report doesn’t consider is whether East Asian men are also becoming averse to marriage. It seems to assume, as in the cover picture that men want to get married and women are rejecting them.

But perhaps the men themselves aren’t asking until they are in their thirties, if at all, and perhaps many of those women (and men) who remain single aren’t voluntarily single. Maybe they delayed marriage for too long.

In the West, the average age at which men and women marry has also increased a lot, as in East Asia. And one reason for this, again like in East Asia, is that more and more people – men and women – are going on to third level education.

But another reason is that the twenties are now regarded as the time to maximise personal freedom which means putting off the commitments and responsibilities associated with adulthood.

This phenomenon of putting off adulthood is now so widespread that sociologists have given it a name; ‘emerging adulthood’.

I suspect it’s true that too much is expected of Asian women compared with men once they marry, but I also suspect that a big reason why both sexes are putting off marriage is because, like their Western counterparts, they are increasingly placing personal freedom above commitment, at least when in their twenties.

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | Asia, marriage, women

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Family Edge looks at news and trends affecting the family in the light of human dignity. Our focus is the inspiring, creative, humorous, annoying, ridiculous, and dangerous ideas in the evening news. Send tips and brainwaves to the editor, Tamara Rajakariar, at tamara.rajakariar@

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