It started, as so many trends do, in the entertainment world – older women marrying younger, sometimes much younger, men. Ordinary people noticed and thought, “Why not?” The result is a proliferation of what the monthly Takarajima (July) calls “older-sister wives.” An informal poll the magazine conducted among 200 women in their 40s found 90% have dated younger men. More formally, health ministry statistics show that in 23.6% of couples married in 2010 – nearly one couple in four – the wife was older than the husband.
Meiji University psychologist Yoshihiko Morotomi’s analysis makes you wonder why this state of affairs took so long to develop, so ideal and natural does he make it seem.
“It’s a matter of communication,” he says. “Women and men of around 40 have pride. One partner’s pride clashes with the other. Then there are the so-called herbivorous men in their 20s. They have no haughty poses, they’re considerate down to the smallest details. They know how to make a woman feel valued.”
Young men, moreover, who in the not-too-distant past would have spurned women not much younger than their mothers no longer feel that way. “The attitude among men in their 20s,” Morotomi says, citing surveys among students, “is, ‘As long as she’s good-looking, it doesn’t matter how old she is.’”
As for women, divorce lawyer Hisako Nakasato cites the improved social and financial status they have won as the main factors in their growing interest in younger men.
“In the 1990s, women began moving up in society and acquiring economic power of their own. These women see no need to rush into marriage – they thought, ‘I can afford to wait for a partner who really suits me.’” And to a financially independent woman, the limited earning capacity of a man in his twenties is no longer a deterrent.
To a young man, says Morotomi, an older wife “is like a mother, sometimes encouraging, sometimes scolding. Older women are experienced in ways younger women are not.” Besides, he adds, an older woman is less expensive to date – presumably because she doesn’t mind paying her own way.
From the woman’s point of view, “nowadays a woman in her 40s is still young,” says Nakasato. Not so a man of that age. A woman of 40 sees a man of 40 as an “ojisan,” his youth far behind him.
Young people today value stability and comfort to a degree that sometimes surprises their elders – the result of having grown up in a rocky economy in which they could not be taken for granted. Young men especially cannot count on getting a job suited to their qualifications, talents and inclinations. House husbandry, to many, seems better than grimly setting for whatever work happens to be available, suitable or not. How can a young man become a house husband? Not by marrying a woman his own age. She, says Morotomi, is not likely to tolerate that. But an older woman – a career woman especially – might very well appreciate having a man around the house willing to do the housework.