Singlehood in contemporary Japan: Rating, dating, and waiting for a good match

Mary C. Brinton, Eunmi Mun, Ekaterina Hertog

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND Late age at marriage and rising rates of singlehood increasingly characterize East Asian societies. For Japan, these are major contributors to the very low birth rate. OBJECTIVE We analyze two unique data sets: dating records covering a two-year period from one of Japan’s largest marriage agencies and in-depth interviews with 30 highly-educated Japanese singles. The longitudinal nature of the quantitative data allows us to test hypotheses about how single men’s and women’s preferences for partners’ characteristics adjust over time. The qualitative data provides a more fine-grained look at Japanese singles’ partner preferences. METHODS We employ fixed-effects regression models to analyze Japanese men’s and women’s preferences for the relative and absolute education, income, and age of potential marriage partners. RESULTS Both the quantitative and qualitative data suggest that Japanese women continue to highly value men’s income-earning capacity. Men, in contrast, value a partner with moderate income-earning potential. Women’s and men’s preferences for partner’s education are somewhat weaker, and women broaden their educational preference over time. CONCLUSION Japanese men’s and women’s preferences for a potential partner’s characteristics are largely consistent with Becker’s theory of gender-role specialization. But we also find evidence consistent with Oppenheimer’s expectation that men are coming to value women’s income-earning capacity more highly than in the past. CONTRIBUTION We use a unique Japanese data set featuring dating records over a two-year period to examine the appropriateness of theories of marital sorting proposed by Becker and Oppenheimer. Our quantitative analysis is complemented by in-depth interviews with Japanese singles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-276
Number of pages40
JournalDemographic Research
StatePublished - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography


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