Large regional disparities in marriage rates point to range of local factors


A recent government report showing a record percentage of people in Japan remain unmarried at age 50 has also revealed major regional disparities, indicating local factors are influencing marriage rates.

Generally higher rates of unmarried men in eastern prefectures and among women in prefectures home to major cities have led some analysts to conclude the trend may be the result of women moving to cities and men staying in rural areas to carry on family businesses in agriculture and other industries.

A National Institute of Population and Social Security Research report released last month showed a record 23.37 percent of men aged 50 in 2015 had never married, compared with a record 14.06 percent of women the same age.

Among the nation’s 47 prefectures, the highest for men was Okinawa, at 26.20 percent, and the lowest Nara, at 18.24 percent, while the highest for women was Tokyo, at 19.20 percent, and the lowest Fukui, at 8.66 percent.

An official of Hokkaido, which logged the second-highest number of unmarried women at 17.22 percent, said a higher rate in Sapporo had pushed up the average.

“Hokkaido has long been said to have less social pressure for marriage. In Sapporo, in particular, women may be feeling less pressured to marry, as there are many singles around them,” the prefectural official involved in marriage promotion said.

Also included in the list of 10 prefectures with the highest rates of unmarried women were such major cities as Osaka, Fukuoka and Kyoto.

An official of Fukuoka Prefecture involved in child-rearing support said the fact that there are more women than men in the prefecture may be leading to its high figures, noting that many women from nearby prefectures such as Yamaguchi were flowing in for the many schools and a big service industry in the city of Fukuoka.

For men, eight of the 10 prefectures with the highest percentages of unmarried people at age 50 were in eastern Japan, including the Tohoku region and the Kanto region.

Among them was Iwate Prefecture, which marked the second-highest rate, at 26.16 percent.

The prefecture founded a matchmaking support center in 2015. While the ratio of men and women registered with the center was about equal for those living in the prefectural capital of Morioka, men exceed women for those living in mountainous and coastal regions, where agriculture and fisheries are the main industries.

“It is an indication that men in primary industries have fewer chances to meet a potential marital partner,” said an Iwate prefectural official.

“Young women tend to gather in convenient urban areas, where there is a lot of entertainment, and men are more likely to stay in their hometowns as inheritors of primary-sector and self-owned businesses, leading to the regional disparities in the percentages of the unmarried,” said Kanako Amano, a researcher at NLI Research Institute with expertise in the issue of the nation’s falling birthrate.

The report, in contrast, showed low percentages for both men and women in some prefectures, such as Fukui, which logged the lowest percentage of unmarried females and the third-lowest percentage of unmarried males.

A prefectural official attributed the low rates to a high ratio of three generations living together or living closely together, and of young married couples who both had jobs. Such situations tended to allow people to make a solid living, pushing people to get married, according to the official.

An official of Shiga, which saw the second-lowest percentages for both men and women, speculated that rates were low because the prefecture was popular among child-rearing generations due to an easy commute to big cities like Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe as well as the abundance of nature.

Okinawa, which had the highest rate of unmarried men and fifth-highest rate of unmarried women, said data showed a high ratio of nonregular workers in the workforce, though it was unclear what had led to the high rates.