11/29/2011 07:38 EST

Changing Face Of Marriage For Asian Women

It's a well-discussed fact that marriage is changing in the Western world. We are constantly hearing reports about the dwindling numbers for marriages, and how even those who are marrying take their time to do so. But what’s happening across the ocean in Asia? According to a recent story in The Economist, women in Asia are often rejecting marriage altogether -- almost a third of Japanese women in their early 30s are unmarried, over one-fifth of Taiwanese women in their late 30s are single, and in Bangkok, 20% of 40-44-year-old women are not married. Most interestingly, it's often for different reasons than women are espousing here in North America.

UPDATE: The UK's Daily Mail reported today that the population of Japan is in danger of extinction, thanks to the younger generation's lack of interest in sex.

"Asked why they remain unmarried, 13.5 per cent of men and 11.6 per cent of women aged between 25 and 34 said they do not know how to be in a relationship, and 11.9 per cent of men and 7.0 per cent of women aged between 18 and 24 gave the same answer, the [National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in Japan] said... The study also revealed that more than 25 per cent of both unmarried men and women in their late 30s have never had sex."

Many women in Asia are presented with a choice: marriage and family, or career. Unlike in North America, where women are convinced they can have it all, each of those two avenues is seen as an all-or-nothing proposition. To quote the story in the Economist:

Women there are the primary caregivers for husbands, children and, often, for ageing parents; and even when in full-time employment, they are expected to continue to play this role. This is true elsewhere in the world, but the burden that Asian women carry is particularly heavy. Japanese women, who typically work 40 hours a week in the office, then do, on average, another 30 hours of housework. Their husbands, on average, do three hours.

This particular social pattern is worrying to many, of course. There are concerns about declining birth rates and the usual hysteria about the end of marriage and collapse of the nuclear family. But this reluctance to marry can also be seen as good news. It's a protest of sorts, and a refusal to put up with untenable conditions. Without a doubt, this is not an easy decision for many women to make.

But David Quinn of the Iona Institute has another take on the issue:

What the report doesn't consider is whether East Asian men are also becoming averse to marriage...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.

Of course, it's not just women in Asia who are delaying or even bailing entirely on marriage. In a recent story in the Atlantic, Kate Bolick notes that American women keep putting off marriage. In 1960, the median age for a woman's first marriage was 20; today, it's 26. (Which is obviously not old, but it's also the median - which means that for every 18-year old getting hitched, a 34-year old is getting hitched.) Bolick also adds that a smaller percentage of women in their early 30s are married now than for at least 60 years, and that today 40 per cent of children are born to single mothers.

So what do you think? Do you think women are marrying later so they can focus on their careers or because they want to prolong adolescence?