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Happily Single? It May Depend on Where You Live: How Families Shape Single Women’s Well-Being in Three East Asian Cities

A public lecture by Lynne Nakano (The Chinese University of Hong Kong) at The University of Western Australia. 

Date: Wednesday 21 November 2018
Time: 6–7pm
Venue: Woolnough Lecture Theatre (225:107), First Floor Room 107, Geography & Geology Building, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Hwy, Perth (Crawley) WA 6009
Enquiries: susan.broomhall@uwa.edu.au
Convenor: Susan Broomhall
Registration: All welcome. Registration is free but RSVP is requested via the link below.

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The age of first marriage has been rising around the world but nowhere more rapidly than in East Asia. In contrast to patterns of near universal marriage only a generation ago in many East Asian societies, increasing numbers of women in East Asia’s cities are single into middle age and beyond. In Tokyo, for example, nearly 40 percent of women between the ages of 30 and 34 have never been married. In Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai marriage is a key symbol of status and security; marriage is the ideal lifestyle and most women say that they want to marry regardless of their sexual orientation. Yet single women say they have difficulty finding an appropriate person to marry. In spite of the many similarities in the experiences of single women across East Asian cities, we also find striking differences. In Hong Kong, remaining single is understood to be an acceptable lifestyle choice. In Tokyo, singlehood is acceptable but not ideal. In Shanghai, many women feel that remaining single is not an acceptable lifestyle choice and experience intense pressure to marry. This talk examines why the experience of singlehood differs in the three cities of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tokyo. The speaker will argue that as the state has stepped back from control over the intimate spaces of family life, families have become the primary medium through which singlehood is encouraged and supported as well as discouraged and curbed. In contrast to arguments that the rise of singlehood in Asia reflects growing individualism, this paper argues that family structures and values powerfully shape single women’s happiness, well-being and sources of meaning in the three cities under study.

Professor Lynne Nakano is Professor in Japanese Studies at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. She received her PhD in Anthropology from Yale University. Her research publications concern women and gender in Japan, Hong Kong and Shanghai; marriage and life choices; volunteerism and civic sphere in Japan; and images of fashion, body and beauty in Hong Kong and Japan. She is currently working on several projects including single women in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo; and special education in Japan, including her recent publication 'Happiness and Unconventional Life Choices: Views of Single Women in Japan', in Happiness and the Good Life in Japan, edited by W. Manzenreiter and B. Holthus (Routledge, 2017).

This public lecture is presented by the the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence of the History of Emotions, The University of Western Australia's Institute for Advanced Studies and the Forrest Research Foundation Visiting Fellowship program, and is part of a suite of events including the symposium 'Emotions and Intimacy in Asian Migration, Past and Present' on Friday 23 November 2018.

Associated events sponsored by IAS/CHE/Forrest Research Foundation in this suite

Image: Traditional Chinese wedding, by kegen 2009.  Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.