Saturday, September 30, 2006

Japanese women look to younger men for romance

Tokyo - When 34-year-old Sayuri Shimizu broke the news to her parents that she planned to wed a man six years younger than herself, they weren't upset.

They were just happy she was finally getting married.

An increasing number of Japanese women are delaying or skipping marriage altogether. But for those who still want romance, younger men are a trendy option.

The growing financial independence of Japanese women makes relationships with younger men a more feasible option these days in a land where wives traditionally relied on husbands for economic sustenance.

"Marriage used to be for a livelihood," said Kaori Haishi (40), who has written books on the topic and whose own husband, Yasushi, is 34.

Marriages with the bride older than the groom accounted for almost one-third of all weddings in 2002, up from just under 18% in 1987, according to a survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

Women are waiting longer to marry - the average age for first marriages jumped to 29,8 in 2005 from 25,9 in 1992 - while the percentage of unmarried women in their early thirties rose to 32% last year from about 14% in 1990.

Part of the feminine aversion to marriage reflects women's rising status at work opposed to the deep-rooted notion that they should be subservient, said social commentator Rika Kayama.

"As a result, women who are competent in work and have high incomes find it difficult to find husbands and partners," she said.

Japanese women are no longer expected to quit work upon marriage. While they lag their sisters in many countries, a 1986 Equal Employment Opportunity Law removed many formal barriers.

Dating a younger man once caused embarrassment, but Mika Tsukuda (35) whose husband is 29, says her friends see dating a younger guy as "a kind of status symbol".

Women reluctant to be bound by traditional wifely roles prefer flexible attitudes of younger men.

"All the older men I've dated told me they wanted me to quit my job," said Haishi.

Not everything is rosy for older women who wed younger men.

Kaori and Yasushi Haishi found that conservative Japanese bankers looked askance when they sought a housing loan.

"They didn't lend us the money because their perspective is that the man should be older than the woman, and the woman belongs in the home," she said.

Shimizu said her parents were more worried about her fiance than her when she told them her wedding plans. "I think they thought: is it okay for him, even though he's so young?"

Takashi Tsukuda sees an upside for an older woman marrying a younger guy - less chance she'll be left a widow.

"The average difference in life expectancy between men and woman is seven years … so we can die together", he said. - Reuters

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