THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
June 2, 2023 at 07:00 JST
An increasing number of women are choosing to remain single throughout their lives, while even those tying the knot are increasingly choosing not to have children.
Despite the growing diversity in lifestyle and family structures, however, many women still feel pressured to conform to the traditional societal expectations of marrying and having children.
PRESSURE EASES AT 40
Nao Sawa, 46, a sculptor, said when she was young, her mother verbally abused her every day. She thus decided not to have children.
“I don’t know how to love (children). Above all, I might end up doing the same thing to my own child,” she said.
Sawa now lives with her husband, who is eight years older than her, in Tokyo.
She said she never wanted children, but every time she saw news about the chronically low birthrate, she had the conflicted feeling of, “We don’t have to have children, do we?”
Sawa said she felt the invisible pressure that “if you get married, you should have children.” When her friend told her that having a child would change her life, it made her start to rethink her stance.
After she turned 40, however, she no longer felt such pressure.
“At this age, nobody urges me to have children anymore. Searching for reasons not to have a child started to feel ridiculous,” she said.
Sawa hosts art workshops that children can participate in.
“I want to pass on the knowledge I’ve gained,” she said. “If I don’t have children, does that mean I can’t leave anything for the next generation?”
She hopes to live in a society where people can confidently walk their chosen paths in life.
NEED FOR MORE ACCEPTANCE
A 43-year-old nurse in the Kanto region was scrolling through her smartphone in December when she stumbled across a phrase trending on Twitter: “If you are still single in your 40s, you’re going crazy.”
Being in one’s 40s, unmarried and not having children were all descriptions that applied to her.
She was diagnosed with infertility when she was 32.
Regarding the government’s “different dimension” measures to stem the fallen birthrate, she said, “supporting those who want to give birth and raise children is a good thing.”
However, she also feels guilty for not being able to fulfill expectations to have children.
“I feel like I’m being told I’m worthless by the invisible voices in society because I can’t have children,” she said.
Before she learned she was infertile, she had thought she would one day give birth and raise children.
She was repeatedly told by local acquaintances, “You shouldn’t focus only on work” and “Your classmate just had her second child.”
It took her 10 years to tearfully confess her infertility to her mother. Her mother accepted her for who she is, and she felt relieved.
“I don’t want society to impose its values on whether someone should have children. Marriage, pregnancy and childbirth--shouldn’t such decisions be left up to each and every one of us?” she said.
FEWER WOMEN WANT CHILDREN
According to the Cabinet Office’s 2022 declining birthrate white paper, the lifetime unmarried rate--the percentage of women who have never married by the age of 50--was 3.3 percent in 1970. That rate rapidly increased in the 2000s, reaching 17.8 percent in 2020.
In a 2021 survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, of the single women from 18 to 34 polled, 36.6 percent think they should have children once they get married. The ratio was almost half compared to the previous survey six years earlier.
It showed that more women are prioritizing their own lives or the lives of their spouses.
Junko Sakai, an essayist, believes society should value those who raise children. She coined the word “makeinu” (loser dogs) as a self-deprecating way to refer to unmarried, childless women over 30.
“When the voices to increase the birthrate grow louder, some of those who don’t or can’t have children may end up looking down out of embarrassment,” Sakai said.
“It’s fine to have various forms of families, not only legal marriages but also singles, common-law marriages and same-sex marriages,” she said. “The government should create a system to recognize diversity, which would lead to the elimination of the mentality that ‘we have to do this.’”
(This article was written by Natsuki Edogawa, Yosuke Watanabe and Erina Ito.)
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