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Finding Success... and Staying Single

Fri, 11/09/2012 - 4:26pm | by Elaine Hirsch

Throughout Asia, there is a growing trend among women to hold off marriage until later in life or even to completely forgo the act. In doing so, women are having less children and doing so at later ages, resulting in a significant drop in the birthrate in many Asian countries. The inequity between the roles of men and women in the family is much more pronounced in Asia than it is in Western cultures. It is therefore extremely difficult for Asian women to pursue a career and family life at the same time. Women often find that it is in their best interest to make good use of their education in the workplace and avoid the additional demands of a family.

This shift in demographics is beginning to create a stir in Asian societies. The topic has been heavily covered by master's degree programs in economics in recent years as an issue of the 21st century. According to The Economist, young men in South Korea are complaining that women are on a "marriage strike." Social scientists are exploring why marriage is on the decline. The potential causes of the decline are as varied as the men and women who are bypassing marriage by choice or necessity, but there are common denominators across Asian culture which influence the decision of many women to stay single.

Traditionally, almost everyone in Asian countries saw marriage as an essential step in one's life. Women were encouraged to marry men from a higher social and educational level. As women became more educated in their own right, they entered the workforce and were instead able to support themselves. Asian women found that there were fewer men available who had social and educational standing higher than their own. Another critical piece of the puzzle is almost certainly the fact that Asian culture as a whole still has very traditional expectations of women. Those expectations may influence many educated women in Asia to avoid marriage and motherhood altogether so that they will not be forced into making difficult decisions. If a woman chooses marriage and motherhood, the responsibilities of child-rearing and caring for the elderly in the family will fall almost exclusively upon her shoulders. It is likely that her career would fall by the wayside if she performed all the responsibilities expected of an Asian wife and mother.

As a result, a new kind of Asian woman is emerging, one who defines success in a more professional way. Augustina Situmorang, a doctoral fellow at the Asia Research Institute conducted a study in two major Indonesian cities to explore this issue. She reviewed Indonesian census data from 2000 and interviewed thirty-five women in their thirties who never married. The single women were often pitied by married women, and many of the participants enjoyed their single status and the freedom it offered. The Indonesian census data indicates that the more highly educated a woman is, the less likely she is to marry. This data was confirmed by the fact that although Ms. Situmorang intended to have women from all educational backgrounds be part of her study, she could not find unmarried participants with less than a Jr. High education. All the women in her study had at least a high school education and four of them were working on their doctoral studies.

Clearly, single Asian women are successful in their own right. Increased access to education and job opportunities are reasons why Asian women are able to find happiness and satisfaction in their single lifestyles. They are no longer dependent upon men to provide them with wealth and prestige.


Photo by ssoosay

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