The Present Situation of Single Parents in Japan (from “Traveling is Loitering” No. 52)

It has been two years since my daughter decided to be a single parent. Her child is now three years and nine months old and has fun at kindergarten every day.
“Single-Parent Households (Hitori-Oya Katei)” by Chieko Akaishi (Iwanami-Shinsho, published on April 19th, 2014) is a very useful book for single parents. The author herself is an unmarried single mother.
After all these years, the media has finally started to report about women’s poverty. Especially, stories about cases caused by single mothers who are in social and financial difficulties appear in newspapers from time to time. However, books telling actual data on real situations of single parents or their actual voices had been seldom published.
“A single parent has a more than 50 percent chance of living in poverty. She and her children may manage to get by, but often she can’t earn enough money to spend on her children’s education.” Some facts are behind this reality. According to the government’s report on single mothers, etc. in 2011, the annual income of about 35 percent of single-mother households was between one million and two million yen. The average annual pay from a single mother’s job was 1.81 million yen, and the average income including child-rearing allowances, child benefits and so on was 2.23 million yen. On the other hand, the average annual income of single-father households was 3.8 million yen, and 3.6 million yen without allowances or benefits. The average income of all the households with children was 6.58 million yen, which probably reflected the fact that mainly men earn a living in the Japanese society. This means the average income of single mothers was only 34 percent of the whole households with children, while the single fathers’ was 58 percent.
The reality of single parents is that although most of them are working, their income is low. Though earnings were not much, single mothers used to be hired as full-time employees, but nowadays most of them are part-timers or temporary staff. Their homeownership rate is 29.8 percent, and it is not so easy for them even to find inexpensive apartments to rent.
Only 19.7 percent of divorced mothers receive child support from their former partners. 37.7 percent of divorcing couples decide on child support, and the average amount is 43,482 yen per month, while at least 57,000 yen is needed to pay for food, clothes, educational expenses, etc. for one child. If the reason for their divorce is their partner’s domestic violence, they can’t even demand financial support, just desperate to escape.
Don’t let men get away.
However, single mothers in this book are all cheerful, dealing with their hard life and child rearing, as if they have no regrets about having divorced to raise their children alone.
When asked “What do you want to appeal to the society?” they answered they needed time rather than money according to the “Work and Life of Single Mothers” survey. This seems to show they are extremely busy and do not have time to do what they want.
Paying national health insurance and national pension premiums is such a big burden on low-income single mothers. They could use welfare loan systems for divorced or widowed mothers to pay school fees or entrance fees when their children reach school age. That could help mothers and children get through, but after graduation they will be very likely to struggle to repay their loans. It is said the delinquency rates of such loans and also student loans have been high recently. Many of them end up being plagued by debts.
Ms. Akaishi is supportive of single parents and gives useful advice based on her own experience. The single mothers she interviewed and their children live strong despite their financial difficulty while using occasionally consultation services and being supported by many people. I especially like it that they are not obsessed with the idea of “the ideal family.”
They are already making full efforts to live by themselves. It’s time for them to help each other by forming a community or network to be able to believe that they are not alone. In addition, it’s our duty to call for more support from national and local governments, which has been really little in this country.
Each single parent has their own way to live. They are responsible not only for following their chosen path for the better but also for ensuring an equal society in the future for children who have to grow up to be independent adults, and so are all of us.
My daughter, still a fresh single parent, has a long way to go in terms of both child rearing and her own independence, but she and her daughter have many friends around to support them and some people who are sympathetic to them. That makes me really happy.
During the Golden Week holiday, when new green leaves were beautiful, my granddaughter ran around the Old Imperial Palace and the Kamogawa River, and we took her for a drive to have a short trip to Amanohashidate or the Bridge to Heaven. On May 5th, the Children’s Day, she went to the long-awaited “The First Classical Music Concert for Children” performed by Kyoto Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. The concert’s theme was “Music and Story,’ and she enjoyed listening to “Peer Gynt,” a verse drama by Ibsen set to music by Grieg.
She is surprisingly growing up fast, and I want to be just beside her, trying hard not to be left behind.
Original article written by Yagi Mine
Translated by Ai Sakaguchi

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