The Fallacy of Late-Life Divorce in Japan

Article excerpt

Late-life divorces in Japan, that is, divorces by couples with more than 20 years' duration of marriage at the time of divorce, have become increasingly conspicuous since in the mid-1990s. However, an increase in the number of late-life divorces is not the same as an increase in the divorce rate. That is, the conspicuous phenomenon of late-life divorces may not reflect the true nature of the institution of divorce. It may be a fallacy of late-life divorce in Japan today. This is the starting point of the present study. Five major findings have emerged. First, late-life divorces did increase dramatically over the recent past. Second, late-life divorces will continue to increase after 2007, when the new old-age pension division scheme for couples who pursue divorce will be in effect. Third, the increment in late-life divorce cases is due primarily to the baby-boomers born between 1947 and 1949 who are pursuing such late-life divorces. Fourth, as the duration of marriage increases, Japanese married couples are less inclined to pursue divorce. Fifth, the reasons for late-life divorces differ from those expressed for divorces in general. It is hoped that these findings will provide valuable insights for Japanese couples married for many years who may wish to reconsider and to reconstruct their marital relationship for the better.

Keywords: Jukunen rikon (late-life divorce); the Japanese family; divorce in Japan

It has become a popular notion in Japan today that a growing number of couples divorce later in their lives. In fact, the total divorce cases in Japan in 1975 were 119,135, and of those, the number with a duration of more than 20 years at the time of divorce was 6,810. Three decades later in 2004, these statistics had increased to 270,815 and 41,958 cases, 2.3 times and 6.2 times their counterparts in 1975 (Institute of Population and Social Security Research [IPSS], 2005; Statistics Bureau, 2005). Consequently, the Japanese public has come to assume that the rate for late-life divorces has experienced a dramatic increase recently. The question arises, however, whether this is really the case. It should be remembered that a conspicuous increase in the number of latelife divorces is one situation, and a rise in the rate for late-life divorce is quite another. This is the central issue to be addressed in the present study.

A classic theory of the study of divorce argues that the analysis of family disorganization of any kind must always keep in view the extent to which the pressures and structures of the society help to create the problems that family units (or, at times, some agency in society) must solve (Goode, 1963, p. 483). In addition, various research reports suggest that the presence of children acts as a binding force and an incentive for some parents to remain together (Waite, Haggstrom, & Kanouse, 1985; White & Booth, 1985). However, the departure of children from the home may present a stressful transition to some couples, and they may require recommitment. For those who are unable to manage the new marital dynamics in the empty nest, the alternative they select may be latelife divorce (Glenn, 1990).

In order to clarify the issues related to late-life divorce in Japan, five central issues are postulated in the present study. First, latelife divorces in which couples have been married for more than 20 years increased dramatically over the recent past. Second, late-life divorces will continue to increase after 2007, when the new oldage pension division scheme for couples who pursue divorce will be in effect. Third, the increment in late-life divorce cases is due primarily to the baby-boomers born between 1947 and 1949 who are pursuing such late-life divorces. Fourth, the longer the duration of the marriage, the less inclined Japanese married couples are to pursue divorce. Fifth, reasons for late-life divorces differ from those expressed for divorces in general. It is hoped that these analyses will clarify what seems to be a fallacy of late-life divorce in Japan. …