The Gendered Effects of Marriage on Health in Japan: Structure, Role Expectations, and Outcomes

Tamaki, Emi. 2013. "The Gendered Effects of Marriage on Health in Japan: Structure, Role Expectations, and Outcomes." PhD Dissertation, Department of Sociology, University of Washington.

Charles Hirschman (Chair), Gunnar Almgren (GSR), Julie Brines, Robert Pekkanen, David Takeuchi.

One of the most robust findings in health literature is the association between marital status and health. A growing body of research in the United States has shown that married individuals are healthier than their single counterparts. The gender difference in the health benefit of marriage, however, is still much debated. While some argue that marriage is more important for men’s health than women’s, others find no gender difference in the positive effect of marriage. This dissertation uses data from Japan, where gender norms are still traditional, to investigate how marriage is associated with men’s and women’s health. In particular, I argue that Japan’s strong gendered division of labor is an important structural mechanism that determines more work hours for married men, leading to different health consequences for men and women. While married women are expected to have a better health status by reducing their work hours following marriage, married men are less likely to reap this same benefit since they tend to put in longer work hours than married women.

I use the first wave of the Japanese Life Course Panel Survey (JLPS 2007), a nationally representative sample of men and women aged 20 to 40 years, to test hypotheses regarding the relationships among gender, marriage, and health. Taken together, my results show that the gendered relationships between marriage and health are more nuanced than previous literature has suggested. While marriage is generally associated with better overall health and better mental health for men and women, the magnitude of the association is larger for women than for men. Furthermore, this research finds gender differences in the impact of structural mechanisms linking marriage and health and in the impact of combining different gender roles on health. More specifically, my results show that being out of the labor force partially explains the health benefit of marriage for women but not for men, and combining marriage and employment reduces women’s health but not men’s. This study also finds that employment explains the frequent drinking of currently-married men compared to never-married men, suggesting the cultural contingency of the meaning of frequent alcohol consumption in Japan.

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