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Expert Speak: No Marriage Movement, Solo Weddings - Can We Blame Women For Opting To Stay Single?

What's trending? No marriage, no babies! Yes, surprising though it may sound to Indian ears, there's been a decline in birth rate all over the world. The reason? Not medical, but sociological. More and more women do not want to get married and/or have babies. Boldsky spoke to Advocate Pompey Bose in Kolkata on the rising trend of no marriage, which also applies to women who divorce and then choose to remain single.

According to a report in CNN, women in the US have been opting to not have babies since the last decade or so. Since 2007, the country's birth rate has been falling by 2% every year. There were speculations of a baby boom all over the world when the corona virus pandemic hit. But contrary to expectations, the birth rate reduced. In the US, it fell by 4% which is much more than a decade-long average of 2% every year. [1]

On the contrary, what increased all over the world were cases of domestic violence. So, in this patriarchal setup where home confinement for a long period translates into violence against women, can we blame women for opting to remain single or not to have babies and choosing their incomes, careers, and freedom instead?

Of course, this is a simplistic argument to justify the decision to not have a baby. The real reasons are varied, each one more complex than the other. Demographers opine that a number of factors are responsible for this choice women are making: economic insecurity, political uncertainty, changing gender norms, and lessening stigma surrounding the decision to remain child-free.

More and more women are working out of choice. Many are working to make ends meet because a single income family cannot meet the demands of a consumerist mindset fuelled by capitalism.

But social norms are less forgiving of women's choices as they are expected bear the brunt of domestic responsibilities in addition to the demands of a full-time career. It is a thinly disguised fact that the responsibility of running a home and providing childcare and elderly care falls squarely on the shoulders of women. It often means giving up a job to become a stay-at-home mom, dependent on earning family members.

FACT: Women spend four times more hours than men on unpaid care work at home - cooking, cleaning and care-giving.

Solo weddings

Cut to the other end of the world. In Japan, "Solo weddings" of 30-something single women are a trend. Women stand up in front of their friends and families - alone - and profess their love for themselves. This is their way of figuring out how to live by themselves, renouncing the tradition of marriage. Since women are choosing not to tie the knot, they are consequently choosing not to have babies, as having babies out of wedlock is frowned upon in traditional Japanese society.

Financially independent women feel no need to marry to secure financial stability through their husbands. In fact, the number of single women in Japan has risen so much that many businesses cater to single women who, they know, can afford their services. There are apartments available for rent for singles just as there are restaurants for single diners.

No Marriage Movement

Photo Courtesy: ABC

Solo dining restaurants are also a growing trend in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Korea is seeing a 'No marriage' movement lead by two South Korean YouTubers - Jung Se-young and Baek Ha-na - running the SOLOdarity channel. The no-dating-no-sex-no-marriage-no-babies movement is causing an uproar in South Korea as it threatens the country's already existing problem - low fertility rates.

According to UN data, the average Korean woman has just 1.1 children, creating a rapidly ageing population and economy. This has taken the shape of a potential demographic crisis in South Korea.

To reverse this worrying trend, the government has rolled out numerous costly measures to boost gender equality. Some such measures are improving parental leave policies and offering fertility treatment to couples and single women. With the aim of reducing the stigma surrounding single/unwed mothers, the government has also allowed the registration of children using their mothers' surname.

However, Jung is of the opinion: "The current government's initiatives are not designed for women-it is for men. They need women who can have babies, so the policy will repeat this vicious cycle."

Jung may be right because things are unlikely to change unless mindsets change and women's burden of unpaid care work reduces. Traditional views about women and their sexuality are still deeply rooted in socially conservative South Korea, which ranked 108 out of 153 countries on the World Economic Forum's 2020 Global Gender Gap Index.

Korea is not alone fighting gender stereotypes. The Global Gender Gap Index does not look too good for India either, with a position of 140, way below South Korea's 108. Most societies, Asian ones more so, still refuse to accept that women have a choice in decisions regarding marriage or that they have control over their bodies and can make the decision to have or not have babies.

Indian Scenario

In India, it is perfectly normal for random strangers to ask women the most private questions about their life choices. Though social norms refuse to change, the birth rate in India has been quietly declining over the last few decades. From 5.91 babies per woman in the 1960s, the rate has fallen to 2.20 babies per woman in 2019. The rate of growth of births in India stands at -1.230% in 2022, up from -1.220% in 2021 and -1.200% in 2020. Recently the marriageable age of Indian women has been raised from 18 years to 21 years. This is likely to have a further impact on the number of births in India, in the coming years.

The phenomenon of the rising number of singles does not only refer to people who have never been married but also to couples who have divorced and chosen not to remarry afterwards. We asked Advocate Pompey Bose whether choosing not to have a child can be a ground for divorce. She told us that it could indirectly be ground for divorce.

"While the law does not say so explicitly, the Supreme Court of India has held that mental cruelty is grounds for divorce. Unilateral decision of either the husband or the wife to not have a child from the marriage amounts to mental cruelty," she said.

Though the reasons are many, the manifestation is the same in different parts of the world. Unless there is a shift in attitudes towards women and a breakdown of gender stereotypes, it might be unlikely that this trend will reverse any time soon.

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