Japan’s Single Parents Much Like Those in U.S.

December 10, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

It’s no better in Japan. In fact it’s worse. About the plight of single parents, particularly single mothers, in the U.S., we’re pretty aware, but who’d have guessed it’s actually worse in Japan? Read about it here (Bloomberg, 12/8/14).

What’s striking about the article, though, is not that single parents are in worse shape in Japan than here, but the parallels between single parents in the two countries. In the U.S., about 40% of single mothers live at or below the poverty line, but in Japan, the number is a whopping 55%. And in both countries single fathers with custody of children do markedly better financially than do single mothers.

Another parallel is that the linked-to article exhibits not the slightest understanding of how to fix the problem. That’s remarkably similar to countless articles of the same ilk about single parenthood in the United States.

The article begins with a woman named Yuka Suzuki.

Yuka Suzuki, 47, has virtually no savings, earns about half the average national wage and can’t see where the money will come from to retire one day.

She’s still doing better than most single moms in Japan, where half of all one-parent families live below the poverty line. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development ranks Japan — the world’s third-largest economy — last among its 34 members for the financial well-being of single working parents, and the greatest hardship falls on mothers.

The laggard performance reflects a work culture skewed against women with children, a relative lack of support from ex-husbands and a dearth of childcare facilities.

Really? If the Japanese work environment were skewed against single parents with children and lack of support from non-custodial parents, then we’d expect unmarried custodial fathers to have the same problems unmarried custodial mothers do. But, as the article itself mentions (in passing), that’s not the case.

[Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe’s administration wants to boost the employment rate for women aged 25-44 to 73 percent by 2020 as Japan seeks to counter its aging and declining population. The figure was 69.5 percent in 2013, versus 91 percent for men.

Only 39 percent of single mothers are in regular work, versus 67 percent for fathers raising kids on their own, welfare ministry data show.

As I said, that’s remarkably similar to what we see in the United States. Here as there, the employment rate for women is well below that of men and even unmarried men with custody of their children earn far more than do unmarried women with custody. In the U.S. those dads earn on average over 50% more than do single mothers with custody.

As these data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show, despite the fact that there are about 8.6 million more adult (i.e. over the age of 16) women than men in the country, there are 10 million more men than women in the labor force. That is, there are 10 million more men than women who are either employed or looking for work. Twelve percent more men than women are actively involved in the labor force. In other words, men are far more likely than women to be either employed or looking for work.

There are about nine million more men than women in the U.S. who are working, or a 53% – 47% ratio of employed men to employed women.

So, what’s true in Japan is true in the United States; men, whether married or not, tend to work more at paid employment than do women. And that’s true whether the men or women are single parents or not. The average earnings of single mothers with kids at home is about $23,000; the average earnings for single fathers with child custody is about $36,000. Both figures come from the Census Bureau.

And, as with articles about single parenthood in the United States, the Bloomberg article fails to notice this all-important fact. It’s too busy finding fault with the Abe administration to notice that a change in parental behavior would make a huge difference in the financial well-being of single mothers with children, the very people the article is so concerned about. According to Bloomberg, the fault with the shockingly high rate of poverty among single Japanese mothers isn’t their lack of involvement in the workforce, it’s the Abe administration’s failure to provide more childcare and child support for them.

Of course both things affect single fathers too, but they manage to work more and earn enough to avoid falling into poverty at nearly the rate custodial mothers do. The same is true in the United States. Indeed, only 28.8% of custodial fathers in this country benefit from a child support order and non-custodial mothers are markedly less likely to pay what they owe than are non-custodial dads. But still those dads support their kids over 50% better than do the moms. So child support isn’t what raises single parents out of poverty, here or in Japan; work is.

And of course the availability or lack thereof of daycare affects custodial parents of either sex the same.

The Bloomberg article, bent on more governmental fixes for what ails single Japanese mothers mentions none of this. But what’s even more important is the ignorance – on the part of the writers and the Japanese government – of the potential for shared parenting to ameliorate the rate of poverty for single parents.

The simple fact is that in Japan, as in the United States, the vast majority of custodial parents are mothers and they have the kids the vast majority of the time. Here, standard visitation orders usually allow fathers to see their kids between 14% and 20% of the time. And almost all that time is on weekends when fewer people work. So mothers end up minding the children almost 100% of the time most people spend at work. Obviously, that leaves precious little time for them to work and earn and, not surprisingly, they do far less of that than do both men and women who aren’t single parents.

Then there’s the fact that kids need both parents and benefit enormously from maintaining full relationships with each post-divorce or separation. And finally, fathers are happier and more productive when they have real relationships with their children than when they don’t, i.e. the typical situation designed by standard visitation orders.

So equal parenting is good for kids, mothers and fathers. It means mothers and children are far less likely to endure periods of poverty and all would be happier and more prosperous than under the current regime.

But the Japanese government isn’t even considering establishing shared parenting as the norm, any more than states here are. Yes, it would do more than anything else to attack many of our deep-seated problems, but we and they wouldn’t dream of doing the right thing, the fair thing, the beneficial thing.

Any more than the Bloomberg article would dream of mentioning it.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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