Marriage and Women's Health in Japan

By Lim, Sojung; Raymo, James M. | Journal of Marriage and Family, June 2016 | Go to article overview

Marriage and Women's Health in Japan


Lim, Sojung, Raymo, James M., Journal of Marriage and Family


Theories of "his and her marriage" and views of marriage as a patriarchal institution harmful to women's health have a long and influential history in sociology (e.g., Bernard, 1972/1982; Gove & Tudor, 1973). However, empirical studies have consistently demonstrated that marriage is associated with better health for both men and women (see Carr & Springer, 2010, and Wood, Goesling, & Avellar, 2007, for reviews). Explanations for this gap between theory and empirical evidence include the institutionalized benefits of marriage (Waite, 1995), health-related selection into marriage (Wood et al., 2007), and the increasingly egalitarian nature of marriage in the United States (Williams, 2003). An important limitation of most previous research on marriage and women's health is its focus on the United States and other Western countries (Kaplan & Kronick, 2006; Manzoli, Villari, Pirone, & Boccia, 2007; Weissman et al., 1996). The substantial changes in gender attitudes and relations that these countries have experienced in recent decades (e.g., Liu & Umberson, 2008) raise questions about whether the documented health benefits of marriage are generalizable to more gender-inegalitarian societies.

We address this limitation by examining how marriage is associated with women's health in Japan, one of the most gender-inegalitarian wealthy countries (World Economic Forum, 2014). Our primary goal is to evaluate two alternative hypotheses: (a) marriage is bad for women's health as suggested by earlier theories of "his and her marriage," and (b) marriage is good for women's health as suggested by recent research on the United States and other Western societies. On the one hand, pervasive gender inequality (Brinton, 2001) suggests that Japan is one contemporary society in which marriage may be detrimental to women's health. On the other hand, the institutionalized advantages of marriage, including greater access to economic resources and emotional and social support (Cherlin, 2004; Waite & Gallagher, 2000; Wood et al., 2007), may play a particularly important role in enhancing women's health in a society like Japan, where alternatives to marriage are limited and economic independence is difficult for women to achieve (Brinton, 2001; Ogasawara, 1998; Yu, 2009).

A second goal is to examine factors that contribute to the observed relationships between marriage and women's health. Understanding why marriage is associated with better or worse health in a gender-inegalitarian society like Japan is important to be able to modify and extend existing theory in ways that allow for contextual specificity. To this end, we analyze longitudinal data collected between 1993 and 2002 and make explicit efforts to account for the potential endogeneity of marriage and health by comparing the results of three different model specifications: (a) simple cross-sectional models of health, (b) panel models that include lagged health, and (c) fixed-effects models that control for time-invariant, unobserved characteristics. This analytical approach will help us evaluate the extent to which observed relationships between marriage and women's health reflect the influence of marriage on health rather than health-related selection into marriage. Our findings shed new light on long-standing questions about the impact of gender-inegalitarian marriage on women's health and contribute to our understanding of variation in the health benefits of marriage across different social contexts.

BACKGROUND

Previous Research on Marriage and Health

In the years since Bernard (1972/1982) depicted marriage as an institution detrimental to women's mental health, numerous studies have examined the health implications of marriage. Early scholarship suggested that the implications of marriage for health differ by gender (e.g., Gove & Tudor, 1973), but the cumulative body of empirical evidence clearly suggests that both men and women drive health benefits from marriage. …

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