Marriage in rural communities in pre-industrial Japan tended to be early and universal. Divorce and remarriage were common, suggesting that there was virtually no stigma attached to divorce, and that the institution of marriage was extremely flexible. The frequency and speed of divorce and remarriage as well as the flexible “replacement” of household members challenges our view of the contemporary family.
Drawing data from the local population registers in two north-eastern agricultural villages between 1716 and 1870, this paper examines the consequences of marriage in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Japan. The majority of the villagers’ first marriages ended within 10 years. Mortality rates being high, villagers often experienced widowhood, but divorce was the most common reason for marital dissolution. More than half of the divorced and widowed men and women remarried within a few years after the dissolution of their marriage.
Applying a discrete-time event history analysis, the paper demonstrates how individual demographic characteristics (gender and age) as well as economic condition, domestic organization, and individual position in households influenced the likelihood of divorce and remarriage in Tokugawa Japan. These findings also have some bearing on the contemporary debates about family, marriage and declining fertility.
Satomi Kurosu is Professor of Sociology at Reitaku University, Kashiwa, Japan. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Washington (Seattle). Her research focuses on the relationships between family system and demographic behaviours. She is co-editor of The Own-Children Method of Fertility Estimation: Applications in Historical Demography (2003) and author of various articles on peasants’ lifecourses in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Japan.